Listening with Discernment not Judgment

Photo courtesy of Mark Groves.

Photo courtesy of Mark Groves.

Listening with discernment rather than judgment is one of the greatest gifts we can give to each other.

The difference between discernment and judgment is subtle but important. When listening with discernment, we recognize and understand the differences between what the speaker is saying and what we hold to be true. We respect their right to have their view; we are not threatened by the differences. We don’t believe that the speaker is ignorant, unreasonable, or too foolish for words.

Listening with discernment

Listening with discernment requires:

  • an open heart
  • respect for the other (no matter what their age)
  • the realization that speaker’s truth is just that – one person’s truth not the ultimate truth

Listening with discernment opens the conversation up for a lively exchange of ideas and the potential for learning something new and having our own ideas challenged.

Listening with judgment

When we listen with judgment, our own opinion is so pronounced that we often can’t recognize any truth in the speaker’s words. In fact, we’re really not listening at all because as the other person speaks, we’re forming our counter argument and lining up the ramparts of our defense.

We assume that the other person is too young, too immature, too uninformed, too conservative, too liberal, too religious, too . . .too. . .too. . . And we’re waiting for them to finish so we can enlighten them.

Listening with judgment shuts the conversation down before there is any hope of creating real understanding.

Why We Listen With Judgment

The simple answer is that we’re biased. Bias is actually essentially good. It helps us categorize all sorts of things in our information-drenched world. Without some sort of bias, we’d have no mental shortcuts to help us make sense of our environment.

Our bias comes from our unique experiences that develop from our basic orientation to the world, our cultural and familial influences, our location – where we’re born/where we live(d), our interests, knowledge, habits, beliefs, and more. With all these things, we create a personal truth about how the world operates and our place in it. And since our experiences are unique, our truth is also unique.

Unfortunately in today’s internet-ruled media world, we easily find others who support our biases and reinforce the notion that our truth is THE truth. They normalize judgmental listening and the effects of that can be seen in the extreme dysfunction in politics. But the more unfortunate effects of occur in our families.

The Grace in Being Wrong

In our families we can believe that our shared experiences means that we end up with a shared truth. Disagreements can build a nearly impenetrable wall of judgment. We lose sight of the uniqueness of the other, assuming we know WHY they do what they do or say what they say.

Yet without discerning listening, we can’t know because we’re not listening with our hearts. We hear the words they speak but we don’t hear their truth because we’re too busy listening to our own.

When we can admit the possibility of being wrong, and even more striking that they may be right, we begin to listen with discernment. This simple loving act opens the door to understanding. Understanding paves the way to acceptance. Acceptance builds the bridges that create peace.

Peace in families will create peace in the world.

This Ted video by Kathryn Shultz: On Being Wrong is worth a look.


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