An experiment - listening without judgement

 © Jenn Shallvey

© Jenn Shallvey

Recently I did an experiment. Each day I set the intention to do one thing above all else - listen without judgement.  This plan of mine seemed easy at first.  All nice and simple to jot a note in your journal and then follow it.  Not. I found myself caught out many times.  Yet I also learned so much more about others and myself.

By judgement I mean applying only my opinion based on assumptions and what I think I already know as a filter to make a definitive decision about another person or a situation.  For me judgement is a polarising, dismissive, self centred decision making process. Beneath judgement is an element of right for me wrong for you.  

Contrast this with discernment. In discernment I check in with my values and sense of a person or situation before assessing what is right or not right for me. 

Yes both are from my point of view. Yet the result has one difference. Judgement can lead to dismissive actions and cut off any further enquiry, observation or curiosity. Discernment is for me about what is objectively true and real for now.  

In my experiment the goal then was more to listen with discernment not judgement of the other person.  I lifted the bar further and added in things like from the heart, with love and acceptance, etc. I went all out on the feel good, warm and fuzzy side of the equation. 

In terms of listening I expanded the act to include in person conversations, observing or engaging in online conversations and email exchanges.  Each format of connection created its own opportunities and challenges for this practice.

The common element of this experiment was what is going on inside the head and heart. In each interaction there was 100% control over how I engaged, my attitude, what I thought. Intentional self management for what normally would be subconscious.  My ‘listening’ became more deliberate and active. 

What I noticed…

Oh how easy it is to let myself be pulled down into judgement. Mostly this experience happened in silence, in my own head. Reading an article, listening to someone on tv, seeing a person, going online and scanning social media. I felt caught out because I was noticing these moments consciously.

When I started to observe my in person people interactions it was mixed.  On the judgement side I noticed the nature of the conversation got worse with certain people. I will call these people colluders - people who unknowingly and habitually reinforce the less constructive aspects of my behaviour. I contribute and can be the trigger too.  It is easy to spiral into a conversation that effectively is gossip, judgement and unconstructive. Before I knew it we would be complaining about such and such. It’s a long road to get back out of this trap, especially if others are hooked on judgement.

Falling into the judgement trap is different than having an opinion, view or thought about a situation.  Knowing your values, beliefs and views means you have a unique take on a situation. You have the right to express these. Also an open minded person will be open to learning from others and considering other perspectives even if not in agreement. Yet when this expression is harmful to another - whether present or not - I feel it can veer off into judgement territory.

Speaking out for the sake of it without awareness is also different from needing to be heard and witnessed. There are times when we all need permission to express our feelings unconditionally. There are many times in my personal development journey when I participated in conversations that worked because I was allowed to fully vent, let go, let out the words and emotions. Yet these times were in purposely designed and emotionally held supportive places. The people with me were either trained to listen and support or also going through the same development.  It is not however safe nor appropriate to take this venting process and just spill it out to an unsuspecting or unprepared other.  

There are also people we all have in our networks that are trusted confidantes. These ones can hold the space for you to clear the air, sort out what is going on with your judgement situations.  The key is to hold such conversations in what I would call a sacred container.  By this I mean having mutual permission to speak this way and not have it be the only way.

For example I have a friend who really knows me. We each respect the other’s need for space and sharing. When we inadvertently blurt out something that on it’s own would not sound right we know it is not meant for the other. In other words we cut through the couching and softening and tell it like it is, direct. 

Why are we able to do this? Because deep down we share a friendship based on unconditional love for each other. This knowing is reinforced regularly. So when either of us is out of sorts, the out of sorts is not taken personally. Instead it is held, supported, accepted and understood. The absence of judgement allows each of us to be real with each other, to support each other. This means we are whole not part friends.

In my experiment I reinforced this mutual respect in this friendship. My conscious awareness of our exchange only made it more evident to me the difference when it was not present.

I also noticed people who colluded with me on the judgement spiral. The more I became aware of this behaviour - both mine and the other’s - I felt I needed to step away. Mostly so I could reset myself, get clarity about my own self. Is it me creating these situations? Is it the other person? So as I pulled away from the more downward spiral situations I made an effort to enter into other more constructive conversations.  

The more I knew or knew of a person the more that judgement could creep in.  I found that having ‘old stories’ or ‘past experience’ subconsciously shaped our views. Yet these were old stories. When I did not know a person or company as much I at times would defer to reputation, hearsay, other opinions. Again not consciously.  It was because I chose to be conscious about my listening that I noticed the bias. 

An even bigger factor was my own state. When I was being what I, and others, might call ‘grumpy’ or ‘having a bad day’ I was far less inclined to be open, listen whole heartedly. My emotions became the trigger and filter.  When I cleared my energy and as I say returned to me or reset myself I engaged far more in fairness and clarity. This insight was not news to me. I am well versed and experienced in the ways to be emotionally intelligent. Yet this does not mean I am perfect in doing so. Nor do I believe anyone is, really. For me it is about catching myself and shifting the experience.

By the end of the experiment I was consciously going into situations setting myself up for the exchange. I would do something as simple as pause, breathe and let go of my worries and concerns. I also would remind myself of the intention to listen with my whole self and really hear the other person without filters, internal biases, opinions, motives or assumptions - all skills I know yet sometimes let slip depending on the circumstances.

I became better at stopping myself before judgement could set in. I also became vocal with others when I felt conversations were going in the judgement direction. I would raise the flag and comment objectively on the behaviour and what I noticed in our exchange. Usually this would result in an immediate shift of energy. In some however I noticed it was a reflection of something deeper. Perhaps a deep seated pain or hurt that manifested and projected itself into such conversations. Sometimes this seemed to me my own reason.  Both warranted love not more judgement.  So even in the face of the judgement spiral the antidote is in fact love. The antidote is acceptance. The antidote is understanding.

Again, I know all that I share above. I normally operate in this way - i.e. accepting, curious and unconditional. Yet I also learned that it is easy to be swayed otherwise or for old habits to return from certain triggers. This is my learning. I can by being aware recalibrate and relearn my way. For I feel and know that the default button on me and others is not judgement but love. I also believe that as we bump up against so much negativity, vitriol, hate, anger, abuse around us it is challenging to not be affected. Being affected means we may take on a bit subconsciously. Before we know it we have caught the judgement disease.  The only way to change this is to notice, change our behaviour and call out others when in this way.

Then the learning went deeper. Yes with me being the reflective one this is going to happen.  I noticed a deeper thread and challenge that required prioritising above all else.  Why? Because this deeper issue is in fact the cause of so much else.

I judged me. 

I judged me in everything I did that in my view was wrong, felt that I though I should not feel, did not do, promised but failed to follow through. The list is quite long actually. 

I realised that I had fallen into the ‘self-judgement trap’ and it was stopping me from being me.  I also realise how pervasive and underlying this mode of operating can be. It is the distractor, procrastinator, avoider. 

This insight is not new. It is more a reminder that I know this about myself but sometimes forget. I forget to be me.

So the end of my experiment was not “oh, all is good, let’s not judge people”. It meant going through another experiment, only this time with myself. And yes I have done this before, many times. I have lost count how many times my own coaches, guides and mentors have helped me see my own self judgement. When awareness comes it is like letting a deep sigh out of realisation. Working on it not happening again is another story.  What I am noticing is that the self judgement comes in layers. 

Whilst over the years I have shed many of these layers the more I step forward the more I uncover deeper ones. It is my choice to explore and seek to resolve and let go of each layer. Hence why the real achievement and outcome of this experiment is celebration. Celebration that I have come this far. Celebration that I have shed many layers already.

Why share this with you? To illustrate that whilst not perfect nor demonstrating what I teach 100%, 24x7, I am continually refining and evolving. This means that it is the willingness to do the experiment, uncover the truth and then do something with it that matters.

Yes we all judge. We are human after all. But do we realise it and then do something about it? For this is the key to reducing, limiting and minimising judgement - being aware and acting on our awareness.

Jenn Shallvey