Recently, I received a question from a reader asking how he and his partner could better communicate without judging one another. Being non-judgmental is great, but putting that into practice takes effort and, well, practice. Just like any other skill (e.g., cooking, soccer, knitting, etc.), effective communication takes practice. Whether you are currently struggling with communication or want to enhance your current communication, here are some strategies for healthy, non-judgmental communication in relationships, with colleagues, with family and neighbors, etc.:
1. Having a conversation without judgment is all about listening. Listen to what the other person has to say. Truly listen without interrupting and without anticipating a defense or a response to what the other is saying (because when you are preparing how to "zing" the other person with a retort, that shuts off your ability to listen).
2. Don't assume you know what the other person is thinking (i.e., mind reading).
3. Make eye contact.
4. When you respond, use the, "I feel _____" statements and don't make it about attacking the other person.
5. Ask questions to clarify and repeat what you think you've heard them say to make sure you are understanding correctly and to demonstrate that you have been paying attention and are tuned in to them.
6. Have compassion for one another (i.e., know that you are both doing the best you can with your current life circumstances and tools).
7. Keep in mind that you are on the same team, and you both want the best for your relationship.
8. BREATHE! Keep your body in the parasympathetic (relaxed) state by remembering to take deep breaths.
It would be stellar if you could use all of these strategies all of the time, but let's be real...that's a lot of new behaviors to put in place. Change comes from little improvements over time. Start by using the ones that resonate most for you, and try new ones when you are ready. Communication is so foundational in every relationship and interaction that we have. Give these a try and let me know how they work for you. If you know people in your life who could benefit from improving their communication (...hint, hint...), please share this with them.