5 Characteristics of Globally Resilient Leaders: Suspended Judgment

Jul 11, 2023. By Lori Brewer Collins

Swamp Buddies by Jerry Park

Globally resilient leaders temper their pragmatic fearlessness with a mix of relentless curiosity and the ability to suspend judgment. They are fully aware of their country-of-origin predilections, yet detached from it as a default position of “rightness.” They understand that what’s “true” and what’s “acceptable” varies by culture. Rather than prejudging people based on generalizations and assumptions, these leaders focus on exploring the contexts in which others operate so they can understand what is true for them.

Suspending judgment is not about being non-judgmental. It is about being willing to engage with other perspectives and represent another’s point of view without having to agree with it. It involves shelving your own opinions and beliefs for a moment, listening generously to others, and thinking before acting. Generous listening calls you to be sensitive to unwritten interpretations and roles, considerate of other beliefs and values, and patient with the process of building trust (which takes time and is usually iterative).

Suspended judgment does not require that you abandon your own values and beliefs. It does require that you recognize, acknowledge and accept differences as legitimate based on the context of the cultures that produced them. In this way, you will be able to generate ideas or agree on plans and solutions that work for multiple, diverse stakeholders.

What Suspended Judgment Looks Like

Martine excels at building trust, primarily because she chooses to learn before she advocates a point of view.

Even though her international business is becoming increasingly remote, Martine has been able to lead her global management team through very complex challenges. She withholds her opinions long enough to stay fully present with what her team members are saying—and what they are not saying. She listens deeply to sense what is behind the words they bring into the conversation: the unwritten rules and untested assumptions, the faulty interpretations, the ungrounded assessments and generalizations. She knows that all these shape what they see as being possible.

Instead of responding instantaneously, she breathes and pauses before speaking. She stays open and attuned to the nuances around her, looking for and tending to find connections between what appear to be completely disparate data points. Because she is also receptive to exploring diverse ideas, approaches, and solutions that come from atypical sources, Martine  and her team often uncover unusual and innovative solutions to their challenges.

6 Ways to Practice Suspending Judgment

When things are moving fast, people often jump to their default judgments, rather than take the time to listen to other points of view and actually think about solutions that could work for all stakeholders. You can develop a new habit of suspending judgment by experimenting with the following.

  1. Listen to yourself in conversations. Notice if you need to be “right” all the time or if you have a recurring urge to have the last word. Challenge yourself to take a pause before jumping in with your opinion. See where the conversation goes before you speak up with your perspective.
  2. Become a better listener. When working remotely, become adept at letting others know you are paying full attention and are “with” them, even if you are physically separated by large distances. Repeat back what others have said and what you understand them to mean.
  3. Be aware of stereotyping others. Stop yourself from drawing instantaneous conclusions based on what you think you already know about the person or the situation. Don’t size up people too quickly before you get to know them, who they are, where they’ve been and what they’re about.
  4. Practice becoming aware of the inferences you draw during interactions with others. Think about how you can test your assumptions in real time in order to reduce inaccurate conclusions.
  5. Observe others during a shared event. Pay attention to your own experience at the same time. Consider how other people’s reactions are different from yours, reflect on what you notice, and practice appreciating where they are coming from.
  6. Ask someone you trust for regular feedback on how well you are listening to others and understanding their perceptions.


Photo credit: Jerry Park, “Swamp Buddies”, Slow Roads America.

More Articles