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Listening NonJudgmentally

Jill Collins

Alverno College

Milwaukee, WI



All too often, as listeners, we allow distractions, attitude, or personal biases to interfere with our abilities to engage in a beneficial listening experience. When we are engaged in a conversation with someone, we tend to decide what the outcome is going to be and how we feel about it before we see the big picture. This kind of judgmental awareness can really get in our way. Instead of seeing things the way they are, we see things the way we think they are.

Non-judgmental awareness is the art of seeing something as it is, without distortion. It is the basis of the inner game of listening. Non-judgmental awareness is about finding something to get interested in, we learn to listen for more than we're used to hearing. We discover what there is to hear, see and feel rather than what we always thought was there. As our skill of awareness develops, our minds become concentrated and quiet. With a quiet mind, we can do what we're doing better and learn to enjoy it more. We can gain valuable insights into ourselves and others. In order to clarify this point I'd like to share with you a story entitled:

The King Who Loved Carpet

Once upon a time, there was a king who never wore shoes. He was forever bruising and scraping his royal feet. One day, completely exasperated with this problem, he turned to his trusty minister and ordered: “I want you to carpet the entire kingdom by tomorrow morning, or it's off with your head!”

The poor minister sat up half the night thinking about this impossible task, and knowing full well that he would surely lose his head come morning. Suddenly, just as the sun began to rise, his fear turned to joy. He had an idea. Bounding from his bed, he ran to the royal carpetorium.

When the king awoke the next morning he jumped quickly out of bed and hurried to the royal window to view his carpet covered kingdom. Seeing not one inch of carpet anywhere he began bellowing for the minister roaring wildly. “Minister, Where's my minister? I'll have his head!”

At that very moment, the minister appeared at the king's door clutching a pair of very foreign objects in his hands. “Oh your highness, please be so kind as to try these first,” he begged. The king agreed, and in the wink of an eye the minister slipped the world's first pair of carpet slippers onto the king's royal feet.

Instantly the king's anger turned to delight. Shuffling around the room with the softness of the finest carpet in the kingdom beneath his feet, all he could do was smile with every step.


The moral of this story relates to effective listening and finding something to get interested in. It is about listening for more than we are accustomed to, and turning every interaction into a challenge. Throughout life we often find ourselves in situations we don't like and can't change; we can, however, learn how to change our own experience and gain valuable insights along the way. Let's put this lesson to use and try an exercise that allows us to practice.

Getting Interested In Interest

To continue this process of discovering what there is to hear, this exercise will use real people, you!

Divide into pairs and carry on a conversation in which one of you is the “talker” and the other is the “listener”.

The “talker” should decide what to talk about. It can be anything he or she wants. The facilitator will let you know when to finish (approximately 3 to 5 minutes).

The “listeners" job is to close his or her eyes and listen for the “talkers” interest level. Note how interested the talker is on a scale of 0-10. Notice whether the level changes as he or she talks. Listen for inflection and the tone of the person's voice. What other observations can you make about the person talking? After the facilitator calls time, use the space provided to note any additional details you noticed about the person talking.








Now reverse the roles and repeat the exercise. Discuss your observations with one another. What did you hear? How did you get interested in what the talker was saying? How did you change your personal listening experience to make it more fulfilling? What kind of inner games did you find yourself engaging in?


Contact can be made through Dr. Kathy Thompson at


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