Choosing to listen while in a conversation is not a passive effort. Making the choice is an action that is thoughtful and vital to the life of that communication. To listen well requires concentration. It requires tuning in and removing distractions that compete for the listener's attention. As much as we know this, it is difficult to do. Many of the distractions that cause us to tune in and out several times in a given conversation come from within our own minds. We have this constant murmur of chatter going on underneath the discussion in which we're engaged. While someone is speaking, we're responding to their comments silently; formulating opinions in our minds that we can't wait to share. We're not totally listening; we're just waiting to reply. Even worse, in some cases, we're not even permitting the speaker to finish their thought. We interrupt with our often not-so-well-thought-out opinions.
Of course not every conversation requires your undivided attention. But for those that do--the substantive and critical ones--tuning in matters. Sensitive topics are one of those important discussions. If two people have differing political views as we're seeing so prevalent today, then disregarding the other person's point of view as if it has no merit is not respectful. Pushing hard to get other people to accept your argument is how confrontations occur. But listening with curiosity and not necessarily with judgment lends itself to better outcomes.
A healthy debate is always more acceptable than insolence and stubbornness. More ideas can be shared; better discussions can be had. When we sit in judgment of the other person, we've essentially shut down openness of thought and receptivity to differing opinions. We've essentially shut down the conversation.
Moreover, some people share out of a need to vent, confess or ask for help. They may be wrong in some way, but more importantly, they may be remorseful. Listening without voicing judgment even though you may be feeling judgmental can help them work out their faults. They may be willing to hold themselves accountable and express their regrets. Sometimes the communication is all about the listening part. It requires no verbal input from you.
So how do we listen without judgment? Here are three simple things to consider.
1) Shut off the subconscious chatter and be intentional about listening.
2) Be open-minded and listen to understand the other side. This does not mean you have to agree.
3) Even if you decide you don't agree with the other view, at least accept that they have the right to have an opinion. Believe in their right to disagree with you.
4) Practice listening without offering a lot of verbal input. And even when you do speak, say something neutral if the other person "gets it". Say, "It looks like you realize your mistake. So how do you avoid making it again?" Let them arrive at their own discoveries. This is much more valuable than a tongue-lashing from you.
But if you feel you can't accomplish any of these, do this to be sure--just keep your mouth shut. Regardless of the judgments floating around in your head, remember that everything doesn't have to come spewing out of your mouth.