I received an email recently from a gentleman asking for my help, saying he wanted to be less judgmental and more sensitive to friends and family. He explained that he was in a close, loving relationship, and that his lack of awareness sometimes creates stress.
In a recent conversation, for example, his partner pointed out that when he gives her advice and uses the word "you," she tends to become defensive. He says he wants to help his partner solve problems, and he thinks of his suggestions as brainstorming, even though she hasn't necessarily asked for advice.
I thanked him for his inquiry and emailed back a few thoughts. I appreciate his quest for knowledge, and he clearly has a dedicated partner on his side--someone who cares enough to advocate for what she needs. With his growing awareness and her willingness to offer feedback on how his genuinely positive intention is affecting her in not so positive ways, they'll learn a lot from each other.
Tips on Non-Judgment, Advice, and the Willingness to Change
I think this scenario is not at all unusual. I love to help people, too. And sometimes advice is not what's needed. Sometimes I make judgments and offer advice when my partner just wants someone to listen.
In my reply email, I thought hard about non-judgment, advice, and the willingness to change. I hope these tips make your day a little easier, too....
- It’s impossible not to judge--we’re always doing it. The practice is to notice and see if it’s helpful or not. The judgment won’t necessarily be inaccurate, but it will hamper your ability to listen and engage skillfully in the conversation.
- Non-judgment includes not judging yourself, which only slows the learning process. Be fascinated instead of frustrated when you realize you need a do-over.
- Let other trusted friends and family know your intentions around learning these skills, and invite feedback if you’re comfortable with that.
- Listen more than you talk. Notice if you have a pattern of wanting help by giving advice--a wonderful intention, but sometimes not needed or wanted.
- When you start to give advice, stop, take a breath, center yourself, and ask the other person if they want advice, or if they would just like you to listen.
- As you listen, try to understand what the speaker needs and what they’re feeling.
- Acknowledge what you hear, as in: “It sounds like you had a rough day, and that you really helped a lot of people.”
- Read a few books: My book, Unlikely Teachers is written in short story format and covers all of the above. Also, Difficult Conversations, by Stone, Patton and Heen, and Crucial Conversations, by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler, offer classic conversational awareness tools.
The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, said: "Always practice the Art of Peace in a vibrant and joyful manner." Trust your instinct. Don’t be afraid to engage, and enjoy the process.