Friday, September 02, 2011

In praise of non-judgmental listening

Two weekends ago, my grandson visited me for a long weekend – Friday through Sunday. My somewhat more relaxed schedule and new Washington apartment will make such opportunities to play an authentic “grandpop” role with my four grandchildren more frequent.

I wondered if my approach to engaging in extended conversations with a fifteen-year-old should be different than what had worked with eighteen, nineteen and twenty year-old dorm residents over the past decade. I found this was not the case. Our conversations were candid, lengthy and wide-ranging – great fun for me and hopefully for my grandson as well. The key, I believe, was non-judgmental listening.

Non-judgmental listening is, I believe, a most effective way of relating to teen-agers and university students, who are seeking authentic relationships with adults than are not freighted with authority, judgments (mostly negative judgments) and expectations. Think about it. Who are the adults with whom young people are mostly in relationship: parents, coaches, teachers, principals, deans, bosses; sometimes police officers. Virtually all of these relationships involve authority, judgments and expectations. When an individual is subordinate in an authority relationship, inauthenticity and attempts to manipulate the authority figure are almost inevitable.

Sadly, I fear that many other relationships, including those that are the most intimate ones (purportedly), between lovers, husbands and wives, parents and adult children are mostly barren of non-judgmental listening. Since non-judgmental listening is an important element of loving, caring, empathic, genuinely intimate relationships and such relationships are one of the most important elements of a life that is worth living, this is more than just sad; it is tragic.

Conversations with our grandchildren might be good place to begin practicing non-judgmental listening. As one becomes’ more skillful, it might be possible to extend the practice to other settings and relationships

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