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Making a Judgment and Having an Opinion vs Being Judgmental and Opinionated

I was forced to clarify my thoughts about these terms when a judgmental, highly opinionated client got into a pickle with his son. He offers his son uninvited, negative, judgmental opinions about his behavior and choices and when the son tells my client he feels judged my client says, “It’s my opinion and I have the right to express it.” Thus, when confronted he hides behind his “right to have an opinion” which conveniently allows him to avoid looking at how painful his judgments are. As a result his son avoids him because to be in his company is often too punishing. In order to discuss this issue with my client I first had to get clear on the distinction between making a judgment and having an opinion versus being judgmental and being opinionated. Unless we define our terms these kinds of discussions can be difficult since such terms often have different meanings for different folks. 

I think opinions are beliefs not necessarily based on fact and are based more on preference. E.g., In my opinion Beefeaters Gin is tastier than Gordon’s Gin. I think a judgment is more apt to be based on facts—more like an assessment which takes information into consideration. A courtroom judge makes a judgment based on the evidence. E.g., “Given all the facts of the case, I think Mrs Jones still owns the automobile.” Or, in a more personal vein, E.g.,  “I have decided that buying a new car is not a wise use of money since I can get the same car one year later for 20% less.” But, to be “judgmental” as I understand the use of the adjective, is to tend to be more rigid about one’s beliefs and to be less open and perhaps even critical of opposing views. The same holds true for the term “opinionated.” These two adjectives, when we use them to describe someone, are usually attempts to make a general statement about the person’s pattern of interactive behavior. We use them in a behaviorally “predictive” way. 

The issue becomes even more difficult to clarify because non-verbal cues play a part in how opinions and judgments are interpreted. If I say, “I don’t like your blouse,” my non-verbal cues (tone of voice, facial expression, etc.) will color your interpretation of my meaning and therefore your response. That is, you may determine me to be both opinionated and judgmental if I speak with a sharp tone. 

Further, negative, uninvited opinions are almost always seen as judgmental. It is my experience that opinionated people are more apt to offer such uninvited feedback. It is also my experience that opinionated, judgmental people often hide behind the words “opinion” or “feeling” when they are called out about being judgmental. They will say, “I have the right to an opinion” and expect that to excuse their judgment. Or they will say, “I was only telling you my feelings,” when they were giving their opinion and not *sharing feelings. 

*(Clarification of sharing opinions versus sharing feelings: E.g., You were very selfish to eat all the shrimp.” This is not a feeling statement—it is name calling and an judgmental opinion. A feeling statement in this situation might be, “When you took all the shrimp off the dish and left me only vegetables I lost interest in eating the dish.” If you read my book, Play It By Ear: Improvise Your Way to Lasting Friendships, you’ll find a more complete explanation of  how to correctly express feelings) 

Most of us can be judgmental and opinionated at times but it is a pattern of interaction which can be problematic.  From this frame of reference I did ultimately ask my client the following question.  “Since you agree, based on my definition of the term, that you are opinionated, are you willing to examine whether or not it has negatively affected your relationship with your son?”  We are making headway.




Comment from Misty
Time: September 6, 2012, 9:38 am

Thanks Ron for sharing this. So many people feel that giving unasked for feedback of any kind is a moral imperative. Often just a way to impose their sensibilities, and value system on others. It often results in isolation and loneliness. I will post this on my blog. Misty

Comment from Dr. Judith Schlesinger
Time: September 6, 2012, 9:56 am

Nicely done, as always. I agree that “judgmental” is a much more loaded term than “opinionated.”

But then it doesn’t really matter what you call the troublesome behavior — the important thing is that it’s hurtful and insensitive and alienating, which is not what the offender intended at all. Quite the opposite, in fact.

I’m impressed that you got through to your client. People like him who are so wrapped up in their own rectitude can be particularly difficult to work with (of course, that’s only my opinion! ;-D)

Comment from Dr. Carducci
Time: September 6, 2012, 10:00 am

Arent the power of words fascinating. Add the letters “al” to the word judgment and it changes it from a probably thoughtful conclusion to an unfriendly adjective

Comment from Dr. Carducci
Time: September 6, 2012, 10:01 am

I look forward to seeing it on your blog

Comment from JAMES M ROSEN, PH.D.
Time: September 7, 2012, 2:17 pm

Judge Thayer’s “opinion” in the SACCO & VANZETTI CASE (1920’s) stands unmatched, I’d say, for the discrepancies between “judgement” based on what the record disclosed and what his “opinion” sought to purvey.

Comment from Dr. Carducci
Time: September 7, 2012, 2:41 pm

Hi James
You’re a natural jazz writer and I consider your comment a fascinating little solo that stretches the boundary of my article. Thanks for the thought.

Comment from JAMES M ROSEN, PH.D.
Time: September 7, 2012, 9:32 pm

Thank you, Dr. Carducci, for your response. Do you recall Samuel Beckett’s writing, “Don’t blame the words: They’re no shoddier than the thoughts they seek to ‘purvey’ “?

Comment from Pamela
Time: May 2, 2013, 1:23 pm

Could it not be said that the son, being overly sensitive, might find anyone’s opinion ‘too punishing’? It all seems to be relative to the people in question. I find it a bit one sided to find that only the father’s behavior needs correcting. An overly sensitive son (or person not fully secure in his own beliefs) would struggle with anyone’s opinion no matter how kindly put – if it challenged his precarious belief system. The son’s sensitivity may be the behavior which requires modification before communication can be restored.

Comment from Dr. Carducci
Time: May 2, 2013, 4:51 pm

You’ve given us a scenario which very often does complicate interpersonal dialogues. Yes, indeed, an overly sensitive person can suffer from distorted perceptions and reject the most tactful feedback. My assumption (albeit a big one) when writing this blog article was the son was not overly sensitive.

Comment from Jampoet
Time: July 15, 2013, 9:54 pm

Could it also be that the son, assuming a “normal” level of sensitivity, is hurt because the judgement is coming from his father? As for myself, I could care less what a stranger says about me. But a loved one can cut me like a knife.

Comment from Dr. Carducci
Time: July 15, 2013, 10:35 pm

You make a good point. I still remember off-hand critical remarks made by my father–comments he most likely forgot about within a day or so.

Comment from SAn San
Time: January 7, 2014, 8:13 pm

this article remind me of my fight with my boyfriend last night. He expressing how unsatisfying he is toward his current job by saying people in his work place treat him badly, his customer is an idiot doesn’t know how to appreciate an art etc etc and want to quit his job when he just started for a week.then he ask for an opinion i try to tell him to give a try and less complaint see how its goes maybe you appear less confident that why they assume that you are not ready. Then he suddenly feel offended by my opinion saying that im giving him a judgement…and he said he never judge my work (because i rarely complaint about my job anyway) and its puzzled me am i really do some judgement here?

Comment from Dr. Carducci
Time: January 8, 2014, 8:26 am

I’m sure your goal was to help but he probably wanted empathy from you, not a critique. Almost without exception, when people vent they want empathy and will be offended if you point out their blind spots. If he had asked, “So, now that I’ve vented, is their something I’m doing wrong in this situation?” the door would have been open to your feedback. Our friends want support, not therapy. The rule I try to follow is don’t give criticism unless directly asked for it.

Comment from Janet
Time: February 12, 2014, 9:13 am

I have alienated my whole family due to my so called “judgments” of them . We all love each other deeply but have never ever really expressed anything that we really think about things except for me …on occassion.. When things done or said directly affect me… My usual immediate response was ” that if I had a problem with what was said or done .. I HAD THE PROBLEM .. “Therefore it was my place to look at myself, see the truth , disregard the false , change accordingly and leave them to face themselves . However over the last couple of years I have become more vocal expressing my opinions and confronting really bad attitudes displayed by my now adult married children and my 5 siblings and even 2 older aunties . Everyone has been shocked at my outbursts . It’s like I am sick of them bullshitting themselves and me about who they are and what motivates them .. So Opinion becomes a Judgement if its truth that hurts , provokes change, or alienates the person ??

Comment from Dr. Carducci
Time: February 12, 2014, 10:18 am

Hi Janet,
It sounds like you broke a long standing, implicit family rule which assumed you would never challenge any “bad attitude” criticism of you. Naturally, the family members were surprised and angered by this. The big question is HOW you challenged the rule. If you name called and insulted family members that explains at least part of their reactions. If you confronted them tactfully the problem is essentially theirs because you have the right to refuse and refute such “bad attitude” criticism. If you’d like to read about the specifics of how to confront appropriately, buy my book, PLAY IT BY EAR: IMPROVISE YOUR WAY TO LASTING FRIENDSHIPS. It contains a chapter which explains this in detail. Check this website for the information. I’m impressed you had to courage to challenge the family rule. Doing so is not easy.

Comment from Janet
Time: February 12, 2014, 1:34 pm

No I have never name called or insulted them . Never ever intentionally said things to hurt either . I am harsh with my delivery especially with my daughter. Maybe seeing her failings as a reflection of my failings in her upbringing As I have said over the years if I was upset or hurt by anything they said or did I asked right off and for me it was solved… For 3 of my sisters it seems it’s they that have stood in judgment of me the last 25 years ( and of course my daughter has shared with them ) and don’t know who I am as a person at all I was the one called names and ridiculed in public ,accused of all sorts of things that simply were not true and some that were. I didn’t even try to defend myself verbally or physically when they attacked me…( I hve not lived the same life as them the last 35 years leaving home and town where they all live. I was a 25yr old divorced mom with 3 kids.) I tried to make it right the next day but it Seems they sat together dredging up all sorts of nonsense to justify their words and actions . The worst of which was ,wait for it , I said one sister ” had some ugly clothes in Her closet some 4 years b4 !” And they were waiting for an apology from ME . That was over a year ago and I havnt spoken to them since … Now I am going to a family wedding … They will all be there.. I had better get you book and read it b4 I go !

Comment from Dr. Carducci
Time: February 12, 2014, 2:02 pm

There sure seems to be a long term pattern of the family taking verbal liberties with you. You need to change the rules but it won’t be easy. Folks who have been “one up” for so many years won’t like it when you insist on equal, respectful interactions. Remember this, though. You have the right to demand respect. This sounds like a long term and complicated issue. I’d suggest you see a therapist for help in correcting it.

Comment from Dr. Carducci
Time: May 27, 2014, 7:32 am

Thanks for the nice words. It’s reassuring to hear that folks talk about this issue.

Comment from Kay
Time: December 6, 2014, 10:14 am

I need help dealing with an issue between me and spouse. I made a statement about the actions of his family behaviors and he was very offended. He told me to stay in my place and not be so judgmental. As a married couple, is it appropriate to voice my opinions about in-laws since I am a part of the family?

Comment from Amara
Time: December 10, 2015, 2:43 am

SonyaJust as an aside or PS I have lost two friends becusae I just couldn’t be a part of their drama always gossiping about the world. While that doesn’t feel good, toxic is toxic. I actually tried to get the second one to see things differently and made sure she understood that the way we choose to react to people or a circumstance is something that comes back to us. If it is negative, we can bank on a negative experience all the way around. She called me condescending and deleted me as a friend on FB. This all sound like gossip, doesn’t it, but I did confront her to her face, and it ended with us no longer as friends. It was a risk I was willing to take, though. I have enough stress in my life.

Comment from Ellen
Time: April 3, 2016, 1:26 pm

Hi Kay: I see these comments can be years apart from one another, but who knows, maybe you’ll see it, maybe not, I’m just wondering why Dr.Carducci hasn’t responded. I just typed in the original question because my husband is feeling he has an opinion and is the only one with a backbone and everyone else in the world is too afraid to voice their opinions. I told him there’s a difference between having an opinion and being judgemental, turns out I’m right, as usual:)
But the thing with your in-laws, unless my in-laws are doing something to me personally, I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) to zip it. Blood IS thicker than water, and unless I’m in the mood for a free-for-all where I’m the only one on my team, I’d better keep my opinions to myself. I remember as a teen, I’d go on and on to a particular friend about how awful my mother was. Then one day she had the audacity to say something negative about my mother. She was totally surprised, telling me, “But you always say bad things about your mother!” I responded, “Yeah, but she’s MY mother, so I can say it.” Makes logical sense? Nope. But is that often the reality? Yep. Do I want trouble from my husband AND my in-laws? Not unless I’m a masochist.

Comment from Dr. Carducci
Time: April 3, 2016, 4:38 pm

Hi Ellen
You are correct–blood will almost always defend blood. The best rule to follow is to never criticize someone’s relative. I would even take it so far as to include those rare times when you are asked to give your opinion of the relative under discussion. To answer is to walk into a trap. However, if you must deal with a difficult relative of a spouse, there is nothing wrong with directly defending (i.e., not by way of your spouse) your boundaries and refusing to take verbal abuse. No spouse has the right to demand his or her better half be a pin cushion.

Comment from Barbara
Time: June 12, 2016, 8:47 am

I have a very good friend of mine who seems to fall under this category of saying she has her right to opinion, but leaving me feeling very judged by her. I have recently been proposed to, and my fiancé means more to me than I can express. We have our values and ideals on why marriage is sacred to us, but upon me even speaking to my friend about wedding plans and feelings, all I got in return was her very hurtful “opinion” of why she didn’t believe in marriage, how she could never see it as sacred, and how it was only an expensive piece of paper people don’t need to prove they love one another.

It was rather hurtful to me for her to say those things, but when I tried to express that hurt to her I was told I was questioning HER values and right to an opinion. I understand she has deeply rooted problems with the idea of marriage, but to just flat out be told my marriage was a poor means to show love to the man of my life, it was crushing. Now I don’t even want her at my wedding, but she makes me and my fiancé both feel bad at telling her she’s not invited. She believes she has some right as my friend and tells me “her opinion shouldn’t change my views of marriage”. It’s insane to me, and I just want to know it is okay for me to feel hurt by her words and distant from her now.

Comment from Dr. Carducci
Time: June 12, 2016, 9:06 am

Hi Barbara
Your friend’s behavior is, indeed, insensitive and judgmental, but unless I missed the point she did not put your fiancee down–she put marriage as an institution down. Yes, she rained on your parade by being so negative about marriage (it makes me wonder what her experience with marriage has been to be so cynical) but I’m not sure it warrants barring her from the wedding. I think it fair, should you reconsider your invitation to her, to request that she refrain from further voicing her cynicism out of respect for your wedding day.

Comment from Barbara
Time: June 15, 2016, 8:06 am

Yes, my fiancé and I both have talked of asking her in this to keep those opinions to herself and attempting to work things out. I do thank you for commenting though, and sharing with me your thoughts. This article has helped me in so many ways understand not only things of other people, but of myself too. Thank you.

Comment from Dr. Carducci
Time: April 30, 2018, 7:17 pm

Hi again Ellen
Just a quick note about the my responses. There are a couple of reasons–The frequency of emails from readers to me is low and so I don’t check the site often. Also, I have not been getting alerts about emails. It turns out I had not turned on the site order to be notified. I have now done so and my responses should be a lot more timely.

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Comment from Dr. Carducci
Time: August 15, 2018, 11:30 am

I’m pleased your brother benefited from reading this article. “Bibliotherapy” only works if the reader is primed to change. Your brother must have been ready to hear the thoughts in my article. I have a relative who is unintentionally quite judgmental but still has no clue about being so despite my feedback over the years. I just chalk it up to a big blind spot; but it does make the friendship more touch and go than I’d like.

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