How to Listen Without Judging

by Karen Kleinschmidt

Judging others during a conversation, although common, detracts from the importance and meaning of what is being said. If you are consumed in your own head with judgmental or negative thoughts, it becomes increasingly difficult to actively listen to and empathize with the other person. In turn, you may respond to your own thoughts rather than what to the speaker has revealed, thereby unknowingly breaking down the communication process and leaving feelings of frustration and judgment.

Listen with empathy. Put your own thoughts and feelings aside so you can better understand the thoughts and feelings of the speaker. In the article, "The Benefits of Empathic Listening," Richard Salem notes that a speaker feels heard and understood when listened to in this manner and trusts he will not be judged.

Avoid interrupting the person who is speaking. Patience is a necessity when listening in a non-judgmental, empathic manner. Set aside time to listen to the speaker from start to finish. Allow the other person to be fully heard before sharing your own story of success, loss or disappointment. Appear interested through facial expressions and body language. For example, lean forward, nod every so often and occasionally say, "I understand" or "I see."

Avoid criticism, evaluations or solutions to the problem. Often the speaker is looking for someone to listen and bounce her ideas, thoughts and feelings off. The former president of the American Listening Association, Lyman S. Steil, is cited in the article "Empathic Listening"; he defines catharsis as, "the process of releasing emotion, the ventilation of feelings, the sharing of problems or frustration with an empathic listener." Catharsis is sometimes necessary for the speaker to feel understood.

Validate the speaker's feelings even if you don't agree with his perspective. In an article for the Georgia Psychological Association, William F. Doverspike, Ph.D., advises against arguing mentally while the speaker is speaking. This interferes with non-judgmental listening. Tune out all your own issues before discussing a serious matter with someone. Concentrate on understanding the key points he is bringing to your attention.

Reflect back what you have heard to ensure accuracy. Pause to give the speaker a chance to respond. Share your own thoughts and feelings about the issue with the person. If you are asked for it, share advice on or solutions to the problem at hand.

About the Author

Karen Kleinschmidt has been writing since 2007. Her short stories and articles have appeared in "Grandma's Choice," "Treasure Box" and "Simple Joy." She has worked with children with ADHD, sensory issues and behavioral problems, as well as adults with chronic mental illness. Kleinschmidt holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Montclair State University.

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