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April 21, 2016

How To Listen Without Judgment

# 1. Follow the 4 steps below

Dr.-Randi-Gunther

Have you ever been talked to another person and felt like you could tell them anything about you and it would be held in sacred trust? Have you ever known what it feels like to know that person wants to see your view of the world without judgment or condemnation of any kind? Have you ever felt that you could be totally vulnerable, authentic, and open to the person on the other end of you and never feel that what you say would be held against you in the present, or ever in the future?

Many people would say that only happens on the other end of a good therapist, and, sadly, that is often true. Professionals who have been trained to listen effectively and compassionately do treasure their patients and strive to help them feel truly heard. Wishing to have that same kind of listener on the other end of you in an intimate relationship is not a faulty desire, but rarely happens.

It’s not that non-professional people can’t learn to do that for the people they love. They absolutely can. What most often stops that from happening are two barriers: The first is that both people need to be listened to at the same time, and can’t make room for the other while they are too hungry to be heard themselves. The second is that they have not mastered the skills that can help them get through the intra-personal maze that keeps them from helping each other feel beloved in their communication efforts.

Before I offer some simple steps to help you investigate these skills, I’d like you to hear some examples of how intimate partners feel when they are easily able to talk to their partners about something that is bothering them, either inside or outside of their relationship. Hopefully, that will help you look forward to experiences with your lovers that are positive and hopeful, once you learn these skills.

“I feel that, even when my partner doesn’t see things the same way I do, he always is willing to hear me out and try to understand how I feel.”

“God, she’s a great listener. I can talk to her about anything and I always feel better after we connect.”

“When we talk, even about something that is hard to talk about, he listens in a way that I get down to the thing that’s really bothering me. Sometimes, I don’t even know what that is until after I share things with him.”

“She lets me know if what I’m saying is too hard for her to take in, but she lets me know that she wants to know anyway. That cues me to make sure I’m not throwing tough stuff at her when I’m angry or want to blame, and never in a way that makes me feel guilty.”

“My guy is no wimp, believe me. He knows how to stand up for what he believes in and has no trouble confronting me if he doesn’t agree with me. But, when I tell him that I need to talk about something painful or I’m not in a good place, a different guy shows up. He’s all there for me. It feels like all that matters to him at that time is for me to feel supported and loved.”

“When I talk to her, I feel like I can let down my walls and will never be seen as weak or too needy. The greatest thing is, that when we’re done talking, she never throws anything back at me. It’s like it goes in a treasure box that she knows is important.”

I could fill pages with more of these comments. Just please believe me, that they all have come from real people who started out not being able to talk to each other about anything controversial without it ending in a fight.

Six months ago I wrote and recorded a five-hour presentation on everything I’ve learned about communication between intimate partners in the four decades I’ve been working with couples. It’s on the Internet now under the title, “The Art of Translation.” Please feel free to explore it if you need a more extensive view of what I’m about to share in a very condensed form in this short article.

How to Learn How to Listen Deeply When Your Partner needs you

Step One: Look at yourself and where you are in that moment

Before you listen to your partner, take stock of yourself. Are you in a good place to focus away from your own thoughts or needs? It does not work to try to listen to someone else if the voices inside of you are asking you to focus inward. That is especially true if you are angry, hurt, tired, overloaded, or biased against what your partner is about to tell you, especially if it’s a repetitive complain that you’ve addressed before.

Never patronize or listen in a condescending manner. That will make you impatient and anxious to fix the situation, and you won’t be able to be fully present to help your partner go more deeply. If you have your own agenda that is interfering, tell your partner that you need to get that resolved before you can truly listen without needing to interrupt or control the outcome.

Many times both partners are hurting or upset at the same time. They both desperately need the other to listen and can’t hear any voice but their own. When both try to talk and listen at the same time, they defeat each other’s needs. If that competition for being heard continues, both will soon be talking to people from their pasts who also could not hear them.

Step Two: What is your partner needing and feeling?

It is so important to know how your partner feels about the subject he or she wants to talk about. If you’ve been together for a while, you’ll know what is tough to address and what the history has been about it. You’ll also know what filters you have to go through to hear what is really being said. Examples of filters are traumas, childhood teachings, expectation, fantasies, unexpressed needs, or his or current state of mind and heart.

Sometimes your partner may be truly sad or very hurt as he or she approaches you to listen. It may be better to just be still and to try to feel what it is like from the other side. Your partner may say things that are not intended to hurt or threaten and may not even be aware of the impact those words or phrases may be having on you. It’s important that you don’t try to impose your own agenda, or try to invalidate what his or her reality is, even if you don’t agree with it.

What matters is that your partner feels safe and knows you are there to really listen, and that your own feelings and thoughts can wait. You convey to your partner that he or she not need to be urgent, to sum up quickly, or that you feel burdened. The goal is to make time stand still and allow the space for deeper issues to arise.

If you are successful, your partner will say things like, “I am so grateful just to get this stuff out. Thank you so much for just being there for me, “ or “I didn’t realize I even felt that way. There is no way I would have known what was really wrong if you hadn’t listened with so much caring.”

Step Three: Knowing What Not to Say

Unfortunately, it is so much easier to turn someone off or shut them down than to keep them talking.
The wrong word, the wrong phrase, the wrong moment, or the wrong response can result in walls going up or disconnects happening when none were ever intended.

Some of the ways that often result in an unnecessarily prematurely aborted conversation are: giving unsolicited advice, trying to “fix” the problem, defending, becoming evidently irritated or bored, leaving a tender and vulnerable situation to attend to something else, taking center stage away by talking about self, or taking the conversation in a different direction than the person is pursuing.

Stay away from pat answers, mini-sermons, or overly-mushy compassion. When people are talking about something difficult to process, the last thing they need is input from the other side that takes them off course. They also desperately need to hold on to dignity, especially the males of the species. When tears come or words are hard to find, it is always better to allow the rhythm and space for that person to emerge naturally.

Step Four: Sacred Space

Perhaps the most crucial skill in learning to listen is the ability to hold the space between you and your partner sacred during the process. That means there is equal reverence and respect between you when painful or important things are being said. As a listener, you have the right to not be attacked unfairly, to be guided in your responses so that you are not trying to read your partner’s mind, to be appreciated for putting yourself aside, and to not be expected to go far beyond your authentic capacity to stay genuinely connected.

As a listener, your partner must now that what he or she shares will be held in confidence, will be respected even if you do not agree or see it the same way, will have the timeless time to complete the process, and will be supported in his or her reality.

Good listeners are essentially emotional anthropologists. They search to understand the “culture” of their partners, entering the transaction totally prepared to embrace a reality they might not understand or even agree with, but knowing they must enter that reality with respect. The only necessary qualities are non-judgment, a good heart, and a genuine desire to understand and to know the other more deeply.

Dr. Randi Gunther – www.randigunther.com

# 2. It’s about being present ­– from your heart – and listening with your heart

Diana-Lang

“Well, I think part of my gift, if I have one, is that I love listening.”

~Eric Clapton

We all know how good it feels to be really, really listened to. It is healing when we feel heard. But as you have likely discovered, good listeners are hard to find.

Rather than wishing that you knew more people – or anyone, for that matter – that listens well, I would recommend that you simply learn to be a good listener yourself.

Listening is an art. It is something we can cultivate over time. Some people have this more naturally than others, but anyone can learn the art of listening. 

The trick to listening is to hear without judgment.

  • It is not about just being quiet until the other person is done speaking.
  • It is not about formulating your counter-thought while they are talking.
  • It is not about sifting through all of your opinions until something they say matches up with something you already think.
  • It’s not about fixing the problem you perceive they are saying.
  • It is not about arguing, or being louder, to make your point.
  • It is not about being right.

It’s about being present ­– from your heart – and listening with your heart, to what that person is really trying to say. It’s about developing an open mind. It is a conscious practice of not jumping to preconceived conclusions or fixed opinions. It is simply listening with an open heart.

Just like a musician can have a good ear for music, or a gardener has a green thumb, or a mom has a mother’s intuition, it is the love of the subject that lets us listen past the words; it is love that keeps us interested, attentive, and caring.

Whether we are talking about the musician or the gardener, the mother or the listener, the common denominator here is love. The musician, out of love of the harmony will develop a more discerning ear. The gardener feels the heartbeat of the earth. A mother senses every nuance of her newborn’s breath, and a good listener really cares about the person that is speaking.

This cannot be faked.

Everyone feels everything. Like dogs in a park, we all know who’s boss – and who’s not. By a sniff!  And, as you’ve seen, it’s not about which is the biggest (or the smallest.) It can be the Chihuahua who rules the pack!

When we are listening from our heart, or what I would call conscious listening, the other person feels heard – because they are being heard. We are not judging as we are listening, we are simply baring witness to someone’s heart. This is a gift that we can give. And like the dog in the park, the one who is being heard – knows it.

Listening is an act of love. When we love someone, we listen more deeply. We are hearing the tone of their voice, the rhythm of the cadence of their speech, the rise and fall of their inflection. We are hearing the real meaning of what they are saying, beyond the words they are using! This active listening is a deeper kind of intimacy.

Listening is inherently deeply respectful.

It says, I want to know you. You matter to me. I care what you are saying.

It says, I love you, so I hear you.

When we fall in love we are all excellent listeners. We really care. We really do want to know every little thing about them. We are paying 100% attention. We are not distracted; we are not thinking about something else; we are not thinking about ourselves. We are thinking about them and only them, and vice versa!

When we really listen, listening without judgment or agenda, we will experience an entirely different sort of conversation. It becomes a divine discourse. It is a true exchange of love. It is real connection. Our conversation becomes a collaboration and a grand exchange of intertwining concepts and ideas that we are sharing. We can lift each other up to higher and higher levels of mutual understanding.

Rather than trading opinions at each other, we become two people sharing ourselves with each other. Our conversation becomes a discussion verses a debate. It becomes a joyous interchange rather than a mental jousting match. When two people consciously converse, new ideas can develop. Both people will be expanded and come to new understandings and points of view.

This is conscious conversation.

 What if we could begin to listen like this to everyone – our hairstylist, the plumber, our mother, our kids, our partner – with this much presence? Imagine a world where we really hear each other, rather than judge each other. What kind of world could we make?

Diana Lang, Counselor and Author of Opening to Meditation – www.dianalang.com

# 3. Follow the advice below

Sally LeBoy

Listening without judging is so hard. Judgments reflect our values. We need to have our values in order to live a moral and ethical life. How do you turn those values off in order to listen openly to what someone else has to say?

The answer is you don’t. You don’t have to abandon your own values to hear someone else’s. You do have to understand that people can differ. It’s amazing how people can take the same information and reach really different conclusions. If you don’t believe that, just tune in to this year’s election coverage!

When we train as therapists, the first thing we learn is to become really good listeners. We all think it will be really easy. We are surprised at how difficult it is. What most of us do is start to listen and then quickly begin to reference our own thinking. As soon as you stop focusing on the speaker, you begin to lose the information that he is trying to convey. This could be factual or emotional information. In either case it’s important if you are trying to gain a clear understanding.

Listening doesn’t imply agreement; it’s the act of gaining enough information to understand any create a meaningful dialogue. It allows for problem solving because all of the information is able to get out there. When you understand that you and your partner might have different ideas and that this isn’t a bad thing, you can let yourself hear what your partner has to say without getting reactive.

Don’t think about listening as a two-way conversation. While it may ultimately lead to a conversation, it begins as a way to hear and gather information. When you take a neutral, non-reactive listening stance, you can hear accurately. Hopefully your partner will do the same for you. This kind of listening should lead to a stronger connection, even when there is disagreement. When you listen you are showing respect. You demonstrate that what your partner has to say is important to you. That kind of listening is hugely validating and vital to enhancing your relationship. It is understanding and caring that creates intimacy, not agreement and certainly not winning a fight.

Sally LeBoy, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com

# 4. In order to be able to listen without judgment, it is important to be aware of your own need for validation

Ileana-Hinojosa

When he disagrees with you, it does not mean that your opinion is wrong or invalid. Be self aware and check-in with yourself that you are okay with him being who he is and that because his opinion on the issue differs from yours, you understand that it does not diminish you in any way. Be aware of your biases regarding certain issues around sex and sexuality, religion, and other hot button issues. You can have different opinions on certain issues and still have the same values. It is okay to agree to disagree.

In order for him to feel safe enough to tell you what he is feeling and thinking, you have to be willing to receive what he says without being attached to the outcome. This means that you are mindful about the way you ask questions, your tone and body language so that you are not imposing your will on him and communicate in these ways that you expect him to agree with you on everything. Be willing to let the issue and conversation run its course without forcing it to get the outcome you want. In other words don’t stomp off or interject and jab at him as he tries to tell you how he is feeling and what he thinks. It is not about win-lose, it is about win-win. Remember you are a team and your goal is to foster this approach in your relationship.

Men and women are wired differently and motivated by different things. We have a great deal more influence over men than we think. In Theology of the Body, Pope John Paul II´s teachings on the meaning of the human body and sexuality, it is explained why God made woman of man´s rib. It is not because we are less than, but on the contrary, we are meant to protect the man´s heart. A man is not a man without his heart. A woman has the power to bring out the best or the worst in a man. If you can learn to let go of the judgment, he will come to you and trust you to take care of his heart.

Remember that if you want him to respect your opinion and life choices, you need to reciprocate that same respect. It is up to both of you to provide a safe space for the truth to be told. How do you use the information he has shared with you? How do you process what he has told you when what he says makes you uncomfortable? What is your level of emotional reactivity when he tries to tell you how he feels and it is something that you don’t like? Are you able to process what he is telling you with an open mind and ask for clarification or do you shut down and in turn shut him down?

It is important to examine your fears regarding disagreement with others, especially your partner. Reflect on your history and the previous relationships in which this has been an issue. Evaluate if you are able to listen without judgment to friends and family. Determine if this is a consistent issue only with him or with others as well. If you are able to listen objectively, ask for feedback from friends and family about your ability to listen without judgment. Listen to your own words and how you choose to describe people or situations that you don’t like or don’t agree with. Be mindful of how you describe others that have different values or lifestyles. If you feel it is an issue, seek support. Journal about your thoughts and make an appointment with a therapist who can help provide some tools for you to manage this issue more productively. Work with a couple´s therapist if the issue keeps coming up with you and your partner. It can be helpful to receive feedback on the dynamic in your communication so that you can identify what areas of communication need work.

Ileana Hinojosa, MLA, LMFT – www.themindfullife.net

# 5. Follow the 10 tips below

Amanda-Patterson

In counseling sessions, one of the main tools I teach when it comes to communication and listening is to be empathetic. We all have a natural tendency to look at things from our own point of view. When we listen to other people, we all tend to think about what we want to say while the other person is talking. Then we respond based on what we wanted to say, as opposed to what the other person said. We are all guilty of this type of behavior and interaction. This type of interaction leaves much to be desired on both parts of the communicators in terms of connection. If you are looking to connect with your partner on a deeper level, without judgment, then it will be imperative that you employ your empathy skills.

What is empathy? Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and feel what they are feeling and understanding what they are trying to convey. Can you imagine how much different a conversation with your significant other would be if you main goal was to understand where they were coming from? Why not try it today?

I’ve got some tools and tips you can utilize in order to improve your empathy skills and have a richer, more fulfilling conversation with your spouse.

1. Do listen to them and focus on what they are saying

2. Don’t think about what you are about to say

3. Do repeat back what they said to make sure you understood them

4. Don’t make assumptions

5. Do take what they are saying at face value

6. Don’t worry about not getting your point across (there will be time for that)

7. Do resolve one issue at a time

8. Don’t stop communicating until both parties have had their chance to be heard

9. Do check in with your partner on how they are feeling

10. Don’t stuff your feelings

By using these simple tips, you and your significant other can start to communicate on a different level. Leave your agenda at the door and focus on maintaining the relationship. When you focus on connection, judge isn’t even a factor.

Amanda Patterson, LMHC – www.amandapattersonlmhc.com

# 6. Follow the 13 tips below

Dr. Deborah Cox

Listening well takes three things: 1. Calm, 2. Practice, and 3. Self-Love. These steps can help you develop all three.

1. Act as though you accept yourself as you are, right now, with no changes needed. Then apply that same acceptance to your partner. How will your relationship change as you take them exactly “as is”?

2. Quiet your own agenda. But honor it first. Write it in your journal. Set it aside or put it in a mental container. Know that you can come back to it… and you will.

3. Take deep breaths. Focus on your breath.

4. Remember the person who listens best to you (e.g., friend, mentor, family member). Think of their unconditional love. Imagine this person meditating for you as you pass along the gift.

5. Calm your urges to interrupt. Inhale. Exhale deeply. Let the whole story emerge.

6. Repeat key words and phrases from your partner: You’re frustrated…stressed out.

7. Remind yourself: I don’t have to agree with this. My job is just to receive.

8. Picture a reward you can give yourself for listening without defensiveness (a cup of coffee, a walk, a snuggle with your dog). Savor the image.

9. Imagine a beautiful container for your own attitudes and values (think treasure box, Kate Spade purse, custom dollhouse…). Let your feelings and reactions go in there to wait safely until they can be spoken.

10. Be curious about your partner. Even if you think you already know how they feel. Notice their color and body language. Listen to their tone. Wonder about how they’re feeling right now. Ask.

11. Avoid solutions: stay in the moment of trying to understand. That’s all that’s needed right now.

12. Avoid evaluations: try not to diagnose, fix, or pathologize your partner.

13. Notice your own emotions as they pop up. Write them on your palm with bright blue ink.

Can I do all of this while I’m listening? Yes. Remember, this takes practice. At first, you may want to run screaming from the room. But just wait, breathe, make some eye contact. Then ask your partner to do the same for you.

Dr. Deborah Cox – www.deborahlcox.com

# 7. Follow the 13 tips below

Becky Bringewatt

Most of us don’t know how to just listen. We often listen in order to respond or defend ourselves. We listen to get information. We listen because we feel obligated to hear what someone else has to say. We don’t often listen to understand, and we rarely listen just to listen.

Just like any skill, listening is a skill that you may or may not have developed over time. Add to that the fact that we often don’t give anyone our full attention because we’re thinking about the laundry that needs to get done or the e-mail we forgot to send or a myriad of other things that come to mind when we are having a conversation. Often we want to complete a conversation quickly so we can move on to the next thing. We are busy people! This means that we are often making inferences from partial information or mind reading what the person is going to say next and filling in the blanks with our own ideas. Which means we don’t often actually hear what the other person had to say in the first place.

If you expect the other person to say something that will annoy you, they probably will. Or at least you will be annoyed because that’s what you’re expecting. If you expect they’ll say the same thing they always do on the topic, you aren’t listening well enough to hear the subtle nuances of how they are changing their views. Don’t feel bad; we all do it.

So how do you learn to start listening without judgement? You learn to listen mindfully. As with any mindfulness practice, you set aside everything else and focus your concentration on the task at hand, in this case the conversation you are participating in. Then you set the intention for yourself to just listen to what the other person has to say instead of responding or defending. You can always have a follow-up conversation to do any of these things if there isn’t time.

I find that when I want to talk about something important or at least something that needs my full attention, I want to finish writing out the grocery list or whatever it is I was doing previously in order to be truly available to the other person without distractions. Sometimes taking a walk together (without cell phones) can make this easier.

Then I use that intention of listening and just listen. I don’t put away thoughts for later or make arguments in my head for when it’s my turn to talk. I just listen. And when the other person finishes, I make sure they have said what they need to say, not that they are simply pausing to pull their thoughts together. I check for understanding by letting them know what I thought the important points were that they were trying to convey. Sometimes I miss the most important point in all the rest of the information. At this point, I’m still not judging or responding, just checking my understanding. If the other person feels understood, I’ve accomplished my goal of listening mindfully and not being judgmental. And once I sit with this new information, I might respond in a less judgmental way because I may be understanding the other’s viewpoint for the very first time, and it just might not be at all what I expected.

It might take a bit of practice to make this work for you, and you may need to practice a lot before having conversations like this with people in your life who are very difficult for you, but I encourage you to try it.

Becky Bringewatt, MA, LPC, NCC – www.mantiscounselingandcoaching.org

# 8. Follow the below tips

Amy-Sherman

We all settle into certain behavior patterns that either support or inhibit a healthy, intimate relationship.  Did you know that the most important element of a successful partnership is your effectiveness as a communicator?  Good communication should improve your connection, build trust and enhance intimacy.  However, if communication is poor, it can do just the opposite — and destroy the foundation that holds a relationship together.

Remember that every interaction involves two or more individuals — caught in their own view of the world.  Both parties send out opinions, attitudes, judgments and other messages in an attempt to “share” and create mutual understanding.  However, communication is not just about what you say. Equally important is how you say it!

In order to listen to your partner without judgment, here are a few tips to follow:

  • Pay attention to the conversation by nodding, smiling and encouraging short phrases like, “Okay,” “Is that right?” or “I hear you.”
  • Reflect back what you hear by paraphrasing. “So what you’re saying is…” or “do you mean …” Then clarify the conversation with questions like, “Is this what you mean …? You’ll be amazed at how often we misinterpret what is being said and need concrete clarification to get the message straight.  This is especially common when the discussion turns to emotionally charged topics, which are inevitable as relationships develop. Also be aware that men and women process communication differently. Don’t expect your guy friends to react and talk to you as your gal friends do. It’s quite unlikely!
  • Don’t interrupt. Patiently wait your turn to respond, until you’ve heard the entire point of the message.
  • Never attempt to dismiss, discount, or demean what your partner is saying. It only puts them on the defensive.  You gain nothing by attacking the messenger – even when you don’t like hearing their message.
  • A good communicator doesn’t make or expect their partner to become a mind reader. This can lead to miscommunication and erroneous expectations. Either way your intent will not be understood.  Never assume anything, especially that the other person knows what you are thinking or feeling. Check back and clarify if you’re being “heard” using the active listening technique sited above.
  • When you don’t like or agree with what’s being said, learn this important skill. Start by validating the other person’s viewpoint.  That means you understand their message and can admit that their point of view could make sense. You are not agreeing with them directly, but just acknowledging that two different perspectives can both be possible.  This acknowledgment will show your partner that you have real interest in problem-solving and fairness.
  • After validating what you heard, it is much easier to state your perspective as another equally valid option. Sometimes two people have to agree to disagree and move on harmoniously with life.  We cannot always convince another person — even one we love — to see the world our way.  Learning to accept differences and move on is a sign of maturity.  Develop that ability.
  • Don’t be a right-fighter! Some issues do not have a black-and-white right and wrong to them. Always ask yourself the question: Would I rather be right – or loved! People who fight to be right all the time and can never accept another viewpoint make poor relationship partners. Don’t be one – or get into a relationship with one!

Amy Sherman, M.A., LMHC – www.yourbabyboomersnetwork.com

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