Who wouldn’t want better judgement? Getting older we fancy that our ability to judge is getting better, more refined but is it? You may know what you like rather better, you may be able to judge a fine wine or a good dish of food rather better than you did as a mere stripling but this is of secondary importance to judging the real stuff: people, and dangerous or difficult situations- many of which also turn on judging people.
Do you judge by the face, the smile, the body language? You might. Or do you rely on reports, interviews and psychometric testing? But what if you are in the back of beyond and a little far from a tame psychologist? Then you’d better improvise. One of my favourite methods is without any scientific basis at all. But it works. It’s simply a refinement of first impressions being important. The idea is to isolate, remember and rely on your first thought on seeing a new person with whom you will have future dealings. It helps if you don’t actually hear them say anything before you observe them, before any skilfull dissimulation can occur and cloud your judgement. Sometimes your feeling can be as brief as “I like this person”, or, usefully, “I trust him”. I have employed people who I registered dislike of on this first test, against my better judgement, and they have always been a bad choice. So the first skill is really simple: clear your mind of any preoccupation and just remember your first impression – and you must really concentrate on this as the second impression, after their charming smile and flattering conversation have kicked in may make you forget that intuitive gift of judgement.
Next: tests. You can give someone a small task and see how they deliver.
When you interview someone and they are late by more than five minutes- forget it, they’ll always be late. If they make problems at the outset they’ll always make problems- I met a potential expedition member in a pub and he didn’t want a drink. Now there’s no law against not drinking but if you’re going to spend three months 24/7 with someone you want someone who is a bit biddable, a bit open to your suggestions. But even he I considered until he didn’t phone me when he said he would. If someone agrees to doing a small thing and doesn’t deliver you can be sure they’ll screw up something bigger. Whatever fine excuses they offer.
What makes us lose our finely honed judging skills. Drink and drugs. Love and family. Deseperate wanting. Impatience of others. Anger. Greed. Optimism of a deeply unrealistic nature. Anger is easy. Never ever make a judgement or decide a thing with any kind of future consequences when you are angry. Wait a day. Or a week. But put it off. Likewise the impatience of others “Decide now!” they tell you and you panic. There are very very few moments when you can’t take two minutes to decide what to do. Two minutes is a long time when you have no distractions. Should I go for treatment to a local hospital at the ski resort where I just broke my arm or fly home with a plaster on and deal with doctors whose first language is English. Take two minutes before you reply. Two well spent minutes where you clear your mind of everything else.
Greed is the bedfellow of bad judgement. Greed is what makes every con trick work, from the three card trick to a Ponzi pyramid investment scheme. It’s hard to outwit greed if you haven’t learnt how to self-observe and note its presence, the concomitant feelings of rush and desire and I-want-that-now. Again, avoid making an instant decision, take a day, or two minutes if that is all that is available. Ask awkward reasonable questions, the kind of question you’d ask if you didn’t care whether you pissed off the provider of the opportunity on offer. I don’t mean be rude, but be penetrating and see how they react when you ask to see evidence, records, samples, references. The simple best defence is to ask yourself: “is it too good to be true?” Anything that is should set off alarm bells if it also requires some kind of payment from yourself.
Judgement of tricky situations that don’t involve people but might feature taps that won’t shut off or cars that are smoking heavily from under the bonnet or damp patches on the ceiling you cannot trace (water is on the mind obviously); such knotty problems can be exacerbated badly by poor judgement. Sometimes you must act fast, usually, in fact. But acting wrong, fast is never going to be fun to recall especially when your car has gone up in flames on the slip road of the M4. (By the way if you do face the smoking bonnet don’t open it and provide oxygen to the fire within- instead fire an extinguisher up and under the radiator before opening up to check the damage.)
Obviously practice helps, and a bit of knowledge. Forethought- running the odd what-if through your head. But despite all this you could panic. Good judgement in tight situations is all about curtailing the panic reaction. Remember Corporal Jones as the desire to scream descends upon you. The best guard against panicking is visualizing that instead of hot blood in your veins you have ice flowing therein and the tougher and nastier things get the colder the ice. This sounds nutty but it works- just picture that ice flowing through you- the real iceman. It helps to try and imagine yourself as a soldier on a mission rather than a harassed commuter with a broken scooter in the pouring rain or whatever other dire emergency requires clarity of thought and purity of action. If you recast yourself mentally as a tough combatant this will minimize your woes and reduce panic. It works.