The current crisis has put a magnifying glass on the importance of looking after our own mental health as well as being able to support others. During times when stress and anxiety are heightened, the skill of listening non-judgementally is vital.
Non-judgemental listening is trying to really understand the other person, going beyond just hearing the words spoken, instead understanding exactly what the other person is saying.
If a friend, colleague, or family member comes to you for support, it’s important to put your own personal thoughts and feelings aside.
Tips to help you listen and communicate non-judgementally
- Accept the person as they are
- No moral judgements
- Be genuine and empathetic
- Acknowledge their anxieties are real to them
- Avoid confrontation unless necessary.
- Listen without interrupting
- Give minimal prompts
- Check you understand what is said
- Summarise facts and feelings
- Ask how they are feeling
- Allow silences.
Non-verbal skills (body language)
- Attentive to what and how they say it
- Keeping comfortable eye contact
- Sit with an open body, and not directly opposite.
The supportive power of the pause
When trying to help someone with a stressful or emotional issue, try not to react to what the other person is saying. We should pause and continue to listen and respect them quietly. The aim is not to judge or criticise the other person, but to simply listen and receive what they are saying.
Our Frame of Reference: Your unique window on the world
Many of us can slide into a mode of listening to respond rather than listening to understand. Listening to respond means that we are partially absent, just waiting our turn to give the person we are trying to help our opinion of the situation, which is not always helpful.
In conversations, the way we listen, and respond is influenced by what is known as ‘your frame of reference’, which gives us our own unique window or view of the world. It was first described by two psychologists, Jacqui and Aaron Schiff in 1970, who explained that we all have an individual filter on reality; how we make sense of ourselves, other people, our lives and the world around us. Each of us have a unique set of feelings, beliefs and behaviours which are shaped by numerous factors including our age, gender, work, education, values, culture, beliefs, experience, achievements, relationships, family situation and upbringing. All these unique factors have moulded the way we look out and experience our world.
By understanding your own ‘frame of reference’, you will be better able to support others
Not recognising the fact that we all have our own personal frame of reference can lead to us being somewhat opinionated and narrow minded. If you have an appreciation of the factors that influence your own viewpoint, you will be in a better position to set aside your views and support someone if they ask you for help with their problems.
Having this appreciation that we are all unique in the way that we make sense of the world is a great starting point in helping to understand and manage our own personal stress and anxiety and help others.