Critical. Defensive. Always ready to impose an opinion. We can all be guilty of judgmental listening, but often are unaware of the lessons we may be missing or the relationships we may be damaging. Today’s post is about the dangers of judgmental listening.
I have been listening to some of Adi Vajra’s podcasts this week. One was called ‘Egos Don’t Get Thru Heaven’s Gate’. Adi was discussing how wanting to reach a state of wholeness was in direct conflict with the Ego. The Ego grasps for wholeness but that very grasping causes one not to realise their wholeness due to not accepting things as they are. Because at every moment, whether good or bad, we are whole. But the Ego can make us want more or something different so we don’t realise what simply is – that ever present wholeness – as we hunt instead for an ideology of what we think wholeness should be or feel like. In the context of listening, this made me think how we can experience or hear things that may be neutral but that we can place filters on things that shape our receptiveness of what we are hearing.
One time that I became very aware of my own habit to place a defensive filter onto what I was hearing happened in a normal household situation. My partner had made an innocent comment of how our front room was messy. Instead of hearing it as a fact (the room really was messy!), I went into defense mode as I took the comment to be suggesting that I had left the room messy and hadn’t tidied it up. What was a simple fact ended up coloured with a defensive opinion and led to me getting angry. In that sense, listening with a filter can be very damaging as it takes statements out of context as your mind adds layers of meaning that weren’t intended. If you continue down a path of filtered listening, whether critical or defensive, you can very quickly end up damaging relationships. It’s incredibly important to be aware of your filters and to consciously decide whether to engage with them or not so that you don’t inadvertently place yourself and others in undesirable situations.
I’m sure you may also have experienced a situation where someone talks over you or no sooner has your part of a discussion finished then the other person immediately jumps in to offer their opinion or to argue back a point. In fact I am sure we are all guilty of doing this at times. But being immediately ready with a response shows how quickly our judgments and opinions form. We are already making judgment before someone has finished speaking. So were we truly paying 100% of our attention to what they were saying, or perhaps only 60%, with the other 40% of our brains remembering similar situations that we immediately voice out. Or perhaps the 40% is forming a counter argument and you even cut through what someone is saying with your own opinion. As we are built to communicate and converse, this type of behaviour is hardwired. It can be hard to stop.
The problem with judgmental listening is that we don’t learn very much. Instead it is almost a ready opportunity to reinforce our ideologies or beliefs, whether in agreement or disagreement. If we truly stopped to listen, what would we learn? Perhaps what the other person is saying has some validity. Perhaps we might start to broaden our understanding of how similar situations can be approached differently. Or if we’re listening very carefully, we can also hear our own thoughts in the act of creating our responses or judgments.
Listening in a judgmental way can be damaging. You can be readily critical or defensive. Maybe you’re so used to how someone behaves that you immediately tarnish everything they say or do with one brush, whether good or bad. We need to be most aware of this with the people we live with or are very close to. It can be easy to make presumptions about them as you know them so well. But you need to notice all the different colours and shades of them, not just their most predominant behaviour, otherwise you may be more prone to listening judgmentally.
And how about the biggest trap of all? The person you live with and are closest to is yourself! When you have a feeling, how quickly do you shut it down and say ‘I shouldn’t feel this way’, ‘It shouldn’t be this way’. How often do you push aside your true self at each given moment through judgment of how you ought to be or how things ought to be? How often do you deny yourself? How often do you not listen to yourself?
Listening to listen is a very difficult skill. I sometimes feel as though I’m not engaged as my thoughts start pulling me in a different direction to the basis of a statement that has been made. Bias already formed, behaviours already deeply seated, it can be difficult to just listen.
I once went to a course where you had to sit opposite another person whilst they spoke about themselves. All you could do was listen. You were not allowed to say or gesture anything. It was very difficult! When I found similarities with a person and judged in favour of their statement, I felt like telling them about my similar experience or feeling. When I didn’t quite agree with a statement, I felt like offering an opinion. It is a great exercise to try so that you become more aware of your own thought habits whilst listening.
So that’s all for today. My advice as always is to draw your awareness to the times when you’re listening. Mindfully listen. It is natural that you will form thoughts whilst others are talking, but try to notice if your thought is a fact or an opinion. Contemplate before a response. Let another’s view time to settle in. Is there anything you can learn? You don’t need to agree with what they say, but perhaps there can be some experience in trying to follow their thought process – a new approach to the same problem or an interesting view on a familiar topic. Whatever it is, you learn so much by listening and can greatly improve your relationship with yourself and others by listening to listen.