Thursday, July 12, 2012

Quick practice: non-judgmental listening

Here's one of those little mindful things you can do no matter where you are.

Listening is one of those things that is simple to learn and nearly impossible to master. I spend my workdays listening, and even with all the practice I have had, it's still tough sometimes to separate myself from what my client is saying. My goal, when really listening, is to get rid of that "how does this impact me?" thing that we've been conditioned to do to survive. I want to really open up to what my client is saying - sometimes feeling heard is just what they need to move forward.

Here's your task: whether you're at work or at home, next time someone speaks to you, really listen. As those "hey, what about me" thoughts come in, notice them and let them go. Ask a question about what you just heard, rather than passing judgment or offering a solution or sharing a fear or... you get it.

The opportunity might not come up immediately, especially if you're at work. "Yo, Bob, I'm going to go to the bathroom" is NOT your opportunity to dig in. However, "I'm worried about getting this done on time" is. Think about that scenario, and how quickly we'd say something like "me too... in fact I think we're really getting piled on here," instead of "what do you mean?" or "why?" or "are there other things you're worried about?"

People ask me all the time about social skills, and how to get better at interacting with people. People like to be heard. If you truly listen, you will get your chance to speak. And, if you don't get a chance in that interaction, it simply means that that person had a need to be heard that exceeded anything else. And how can giving them that chance be anything but good?

So, nutshell version: just listen. Ask a question. Indicate that you're willing to hear more. I'm here to tell you that REAL listening saves lives. And, while that might not happen at the office, you might be surprised at how quickly being a great listener pays off in other ways.


  1. I really like this post. I made a commitment a few years ago to try and harness my natural abilities as a good listener and it has truly changed my life! My friendships are stronger and more intimate and the youth I work with have become more open and honest. it's amazing how the art of active listening can be so transformative for both parties.

  2. I really admire that. I mean, being able to keep up with a commitment like that several years later is pretty awesome!

  3. I read what you are saying. And you do improve your communication skills by practicing to listen to what others are saying, instead of just listening to your own thoughts. I have become much better with this. When other people notice that you are really listening to them, they start to trust you and feel comfortable around you. Well, that is for most people. There are some people who only want to talk about themselves, about their fantastic vacations, etc, and never seem to stop. (Now I am talking from a private perspective, not a professional perspective, where you HAVE to listen.)
    Keep on writing good articles!