Listeners Blog

Tag Archives: Letting go of Judgment


Never too close to comfort

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Of all the ills that beset mankind in the 21st century, the cruelest must be Alzheimer’s disease. It robs its victims of the most precious gift of advancing age – the companionship of family and friends – by taking away the ability to have meaningful conversations.

Modern research is focused on finding the causes and perhaps a cure for or at least a way to lessen or postpone the advancement of Alzheimer’s, but it has been with us for a very long time. In “Hamlet,” Shakespeare describes our return to “second childishness and mere oblivion” as we age.

Amid the challenges and frustrations of daily caregiving for spouses or parents or grandparents suffering from dementia, it is important to take the time to follow them on their conversational journeys. The first step is to let go of your own need to keep them connected to the real world or grounded in the present.

Does it really matter that your mom thinks you are your sister, and talks like you’re not in the room? Depending on family dynamics, it might be hurtful, but what is there to be gained from an argument? Nothing but resentment on your part, since she won’t understand – or remember.

Instead, take a deep breath and think back to the patience she had when you were just learning to talk, listening to you tell the same story over and over until you got it right (for you). Maybe she even held conversations with your imaginary friends, because she knew they were real and important to you.

It may be time to return the favor, and use your active listening skills, your empathy and understanding, to let her know you’re there, no matter when or where she thinks that is. She may not appreciate it, but in the long run, you will.



Being Both Empathetic and Real

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You want to be a supportive listener. You want to be there for your friend, you want to really hear and give the gift of understanding. But you’re having a problem finding enough empathy inside yourself to help them find their inner truth.

Maybe you hear them get stuck on a lack of material things that you don’t value. Maybe you think they are creating their own relationship conflict just to add drama to their life. Maybe you want to let them know that they have reached a cul-de-sac on their conversational journey.

It happens. We’re all human, and it’s difficult not to have an emotional reaction while listening to other people talk through their issues.

In fact, just reading about friends’ successes online can make us feel less satisfied with our own lives, according to a new study about the new phenomenon called “Facebook Envy.”

But here’s one fascinating takeaway about “Facebook Envy.” The people most likely to become jealous and frustrated are those who passively read posts and look longingly at others’ vacation photos without engaging in any active conversations themselves. Their passivity puts them in a position to be envious!

In real life, an active, engaged listener will let someone know when it sounds like they are taking an unproductive talk detour. They will speak up. To do this while still remaining supportive, you must first understand and be in command of your own feelings. Why does this particular topic cause a reaction in you as an engaged listener? Next, earnestly try to understand if there might be more going on behind the actual words being spoken.

Once you have that sorted out, it is important to let the speaker know how you are feeling. Honestly acknowledge all the emotions in play on both sides, so a deeply meaningful conversation can take place.

Helpful tip on managing emotions:

A “mysteriously” helpful exercise to lessen the awful feelings that accompany being envious or judgmental is to recognize when you are having either of these feelings and actually identify and say to yourself “envy” or “judging.” With practice, labeling these feelings becomes a powerful, helpful habit that can greatly lessen being envious or judgmental.

Let us know how this practice works for you.



‘Tis the season to really listen

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The end of the year is a special time of transition. In many cultures, it is important to enter the new year with debts paid and quarrels settled so we can refresh our relationships with others.

Unfortunately, in our modern society, the crazy-busy season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day can be anything but conducive to renewal and reflection. Many people feel overwhelmed by the crush of activities, family obligations and expectations for the “perfect” holiday extravaganza. In fact, the dysfunctional over-the-top holiday dinner with the extended family has become a Hollywood cliché.

Instead of approaching the festivities with dread, why not give the gift of truly listening? If your holidays include a gathering of relatives from far away, find someone you haven’t seen for a while and make time to catch up. Be genuinely interested in what they have been doing, what changes they may have been going through, their plans for the coming year and beyond. Listen more than you speak, and ask questions that show you really care about how the other person is feeling.

The sense of connection such a simple, heart-felt conversation can create may seem like a Christmas miracle, but it’s the sort of experience that we can all share throughout the year by simply listening deeply.



Political Damage Control

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The recently concluded election generated way more heat than light, and not just for the candidates in hotly contested races.

If you feel that disagreements over politics may have done serious damage to a relationship with someone you value… someone you really care about as a human being… a friend or family member who just happened to support the other side, now is the time to put aside the heat and search for the light, together.

The election is behind us, so let it go, especially as we prepare for the upcoming winter holidays — a traditional time for reconciliation before we start a new year.

The hardest part may be reaching across the aisle, so to speak. Start a conversation. Let the other person know that you do value your relationship and you would like to find common ground for it to continue. Ask how he or she is feeling, not about the election, but about how things stand between you now.

And when they tell you, listen in an open and respectful manner, without arguing or disagreeing or imposing your own version of events. You have to be willing to hear and accept some hard truths. Ask questions to make sure you understand not only what your friend is saying, but the deeper meaning behind the words. Be willing to share what is useful and true, but let the rest go.

When you can both truly say you approve the message, you can get your relationship back on track.



A piece of advice: keep it to yourself

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We’ve mentioned several times here that giving advice is not the same as truly listening. What’s so wrong about trying to help people solve their problems? Let us count the ways that giving advice interferes with listening.

First of all, while you are busy thinking up a solution, you stop hearing the rest of the story. You may think you know what is troubling someone based on a few minutes of conversation, but few people launch into the real issue right away. They tend to talk around what’s really going on at first. Supportive listeners give speakers the time and space to uncover their true concerns by putting them into words.

Second, any advice can only come from your own experience. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Just because you think you know what you would do or feel or think about a situation doesn’t mean that would work for anyone else. It’s up to each of us to determine what is right for ourselves, and supportive listeners can be there while we search for our personal truth.

Third, if your advice is rejected, emotion is injected into the conversation. You can feel hurt, since you were only trying to help, after all. The speaker can feel angry, because you obviously didn’t understand what they were really trying to say, or guilty, because they know they won’t – or can’t — take your well-meaning directions. Advice can as often as not lead to arguments, or worse, a total end to talking about anything. Supportive listeners keep the conversation going by keeping their own emotions out of the equation, letting speakers explore their own feelings freely.

The temptation to fix other people’s problems is powerful. Resisting it can be powerfully rewarding, for both the speaker and the listener.