People throw around that word a lot. “Non-judgmental.” People often think it’s synonymous to “I don’t judge people based on their race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identification.” The massive confusion between that and being a “non-judgmental listener,” rendering the latter meaningless. Like there is currently no word to say “non-judgmental listener” and have the meaning universally understood.
Being a “non-judgmental listener” means you don’t judge the other person’s experience and reactions, thoughts and opinions, emotions and feelings, choices and decisions in the conversation. I think some examples may be the best way to illustrate this.
- “I’m going to say this, and she should feel supported by me” vs “What is it that she needs to hear right now for her to feel supported by me?”
- “She should feel connected if I share my story that’s similar to hers” vs “What is it that I can say now that would make her feel connected?”
- “What she needs is a pro-and-con assessment / making a to-do list with due dates.” vs “What does her process of making decisions / accomplishing a goal look like?”
- “I know she just has to confront her boss, so I’ll tell her that now. What she needs now is the solution.” vs “She is telling me about her conflict with her boss. What is it that she is looking for from me?”
- “She seems sad. I’ll tell her not to be sad and to look on the bright side.” vs “She seems sad. What is it that she is looking for from me?”
- “She seems anxious about tomorrow’s presentation. I’ll tell her she will be just fine.” vs “She seems anxious. What is it that she is looking for from me?”
- “She says she just wants me to listen, and I’ll do that later. But I have something she really needs to hear.” vs. “She says she just wants me to listen. So I’ll listen.”
- “She’s talked enough about this now” vs “Does she feel she’s fully listened to?”
If you looked through the examples and thought “What? Who would want the solution if I had one? Then she can stop talking about her problems, which I’m sure she doesn’t want to be talking about,” you’re not alone. Very few people know how to be a non-judgmental listener.
“Judgment” in this context is:
- projecting what you would want in the same situation onto them and judging that’s what they should want too.
- judging what they need from you and not recognizing their autonomy.
- approaching the conversation as though you believe you know better than they do.
- not respecting when they express what they want from you.
- not giving them a chance to express what she want from you.
Now, how do you become a non-judgmental listener? Get your thoughts, opinions, views, choices, and values out of the equation and let them tell you what’s important to them in this moment.
First step to becoming a non-judgmental listener – have a thorough read through examples 1 – 7.