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Written by Claire Bennett
Over the years there have been many different versions of listening training, all under different titles such as “active listening” or “generous listening” and so on. Now, this form of mental health support is more commonly referred to as “Non-Judgemental Listening.” I find the title “non-judgemental listening” an interesting one – I think it can be misleading and give the impression that in order to be able to achieve it, you must train your mind to not experience opinion of any kind whilst listening to someone.
It can lead people to believe that to be a good listener we are not allowed to make a judgement. In my experience, no matter how hard you try, not making a judgement about a person or a situation is just not possible. This does not, in my view, make you a bad person or not a good listener – it makes you human.
Learn to refocus the mind
So I hear you ask: “If that’s your belief, how can you train people in the technique of non-judgemental listening?” Fair question. What I do believe is that you can understand yourself well enough to acknowledge that judgement or thought, but not follow it and refocus the mind on the person you are listening to. That is what makes a good listener in my view.
Many of the principles I refer to with non-judgemental listening relate to the practice of mindfulness. Being in the present and focusing on one thing is a key skill. Managing our judgements and thoughts, and not following or engaging in them, is practiced when meditating.
Self-reflection and self-awareness practices are such powerful tools; they can open so many opportunities for you if you are willing to invest the time. We all have our view of this world which influences how we think, feel, and behave. This view is developed over time and is an ever-moving feast. Things like your sex, age, upbringing, political views, or non-political views, as well as your religious or spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof) to name but a few. These types of factors influence our world view and therefore our thinking and our judgements. If we can have a good understanding of these, we give ourselves the opportunity to recognise when they pop into our minds, making it easier to leave them and refocus on the person in front of us.
It does take practice and there are other elements to non-judgmental listening training to consider; therefore, my message is to take training in non-judgemental listening and be kind to yourself in your practice. You are exploring and trying to manage your human instinct to judge. It is worth the time and effort, as it can enrich so many parts of your life to truly listen and accept people’s views, relationships, and experiences.
Claire is a Mental Health & Wellbeing practitioner living in Gloucestershire. She is passionate about creating psychologically safe environments for people to thrive. She is a busy working mummy to two children and a Hungarian Vizsla called Rufus. Claire enjoys running, yoga and practices mindfulness on a regular basis.