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Effective communication in the workplace
Effective communication in the workplace

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2.4 Avoiding seeming judgemental

As far as possible, remain neutral until you have listened to what the speaker has to say. If you display anger, frustration or disapproval when someone is talking to you, they will respond by adjusting what they are saying and may also become angry, scared, defensive or openly hostile. At best this makes people less likely to want to talk to you; at worst it may mean that they withhold information that is important.

A photograph of someone listening to their colleague.
Figure 6 An example of a non-judgemental conversation.

Being judgemental can also be conveyed through what appears to be a positive attitude. For example, saying something like ‘Nice to see you were on time’ might imply ‘You are not usually on time’, or ‘I hope this is not going to take long’, etc.

In Activity 1 you’ll have an opportunity to test your own judgements and assumptions.

Activity 1 Making assumptions

Timing: Allow 15 minutes for this activity

Take a look at the following list of ten objects and then spend some time noting your reflections on what the list suggests about the gender, age, beliefs, likes, dislikes or interests of the person who owns them. What might the list allow you to surmise about the owner’s socio-economic background?

  • 42-inch flatscreen TV
  • Porsche 911 car
  • Golf clubs
  • Rosary beads
  • Laptop computer
  • Screwdriver
  • Bicycle
  • Tennis racket
  • Tennis ball
  • Hammer
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It is interesting to reflect on the assumptions you can make about people based on the objects they own or use. Although there is nothing in the list above which specifies the owner’s gender, many of the items could indicate the sort of objects which a man might own or aspire to own – the large-screen television, the sports car, the sporting equipment.

Similarly, we might surmise that the owner of the objects on this list is wealthy – they have a huge TV and an expensive super car.

There are a number of pieces of sporting equipment on the list, which might suggest the owner likes to play outdoor sports.

The rosary beads might indicate that the owner is a Roman Catholic.

You do not really know anything about the hypothetical owner, but have already begun to form a series of opinions about who they are, and what they like and dislike, based on the things they own. Objects are integral to the way others can be viewed and the assumptions made about them. Clothing choices can have a similar impact.

Although this activity is not based on direct communication, the person who owns these items might talk about them at work – giving colleagues an opportunity to make assumptions about them and their values. If you allow it to, this information might influence your ability to build rapport or work effectively with this individual, for example by interpreting their intentions wrongly.

(Adapted from An introduction to material culture [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] )

Try to avoid stereotyping and making assumptions about people on the basis of their difference from you. Differences might include ethnicity, gender, age, religion, nationality, socio-economic status or disability. You’ll explore diversity in the workplace, and its potential impact on communication, in Week 7.