The Power of Listening Without Judging

Donald Miller

I have a friend who happens to be a rockstar— a strange and confusing word. And yet my friend is one of the more stable people I know.

He doesn’t get down too much when things don’t go his way, and he doesn’t get all that excited when they do. He’s a terrific listener, too, and wants to know more about you than he wants you to know about himself. In a culture that praises fame, my friend hardly notices.

He seems to see music as a service he offers, no different than a waiter bringing more water. He doesn’t think too much or too little of himself. And for the first few years I knew him, I just assumed he was one of those rare people who was given a heaping supply of wisdom and humility, and I think there might be some truth to that. But recently, I met one of the main reasons my friend is so emotionally stable and capable. I met his father.

*Photo by Susieq3c, Creative Commons

*Photo by Susieq3c, Creative Commons

I was at a weekend retreat and my friend’s dad happened to be there.

We ended up sharing a room so I got to spend 48 hours or more with him, and engaged in more than a few great conversations. while talking about something I can’t remember, my friend made the statement that he’s made it a priority to never judge his children.

I asked him what he meant by that, and he thought about it for a second and said he always wanted to be the kind of dad who would invite his children to be open and honest about whatever they were dealing with.

And he said he thought he’d accomplish that.

He said he was often really surprised at how much his sons would tell him about their lives. They’d be out surfing and one of the kids would come over and just start talking, just thinking out loud about whatever they were struggling with.

Why do they feel safe? I asked.

He said that he accomplished this by never judging his kids. He said when they were younger, he would discipline them, for sure, and he would would serve as a teacher and guide, but he’d never allow himself to think less of them or express that they’d lost any “value” in his eyes. He also confessed there were plenty of times when he had to bite his tongue.

Today his sons are adults, married and very successful, and yet they interact with the world as though they are wanted, as though the world would not think less of them because they are human.

It got me wondering about whether I’m a good listener.

What are my motives when I think less of people?

For now, though, I’m wondering if you and I can pay attention to how often we “think less” of people. Try not to “think less” of yourself for doing it, but simply pay attention to when you are living into that mindset. And then ask yourself why… Why am I judging this person? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? If it’s a good thing, what good comes from it? If it’s a bad thing, what are my motives? Are my motives to feel better about myself in comparison?

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller has been telling his story for more than a decade, now he wants to help you tell yours. He’s helped over 1,000 companies clarify their message through the StoryBrand Workshops. For an introduction to what he’s doing now, check out the 5 Minute Marketing Makeover.

  • Pingback: The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People | smalbinder()

  • Love this! Thanks for sharing, Donald. I respect Jon Foreman greatly, and I just finished reading “Never Say No” by his parents. This is a great reminder on how to develop a long, lasting relationship with our children as well as with others.

  • Frankly, this is a huge distinction in raising kids, with your spouse or with friends. Yes, be free to disagree at times. Or with your kids to guide them in a different direction. But always uphold them as a good and valuable person.

    I always tried to do this with my kids. I can’t say I always succeeded but I tried to apologize when I missed. And my kids, like your friend, have accomplished much but are just nice good people. And they treat others as my wife and I treated them.

    Works great in a marriage as well. In fact, I think it’s essential for a marriage that is firing on all cylinders.

    Good post.

  • I really enjoyed this – love Jon Forman.

  • Sarah Simmons

    “…they interact with the world as though they are wanted, as though the world would not think less of them because they are human.” What a great gift to give your kids-or anybody, these days.

    Communicating non-judgment is hard when you disagree with somebody’s actions, but I think it’s worth the struggle. Showing people their value is not attached to their performance or even beliefs is priceless. Thanks for this!

  • Kendra Vita

    When the rubber meets the road, this is more difficult than it sounds. My dear 15yo is learning who she is and working on expressing herself. Sometimes, I find her expressions distasteful. I remember my own mother struggling with some of my expressive choices and saying, “YOU are a reflection of ME!” I don’t want to do that to my children. Thank you for this reminder to avoid thinking less of others, especially my children.