I recently spoke at the University of Toronto.  The focus was choosing how to listen.  Most don’t realize that how we choose to listen and process the information we hear directly influences the outcomes of our conversations and how we build our relationships.  As participants practiced the exercises in their groups, feedback was that listening is hard without fixing, solving or telling others what to do.  It was challenging to listen and just learn.

The truth is, this feedback is not unusual.  Every time we do this exercise at workshops or speaking engagements regardless of age or industry, the feedback is the same.  Here is the thing, we live in a judging world.  People spend a lot of time during the day judging themselves and others.  We do it as leaders, colleagues, parents, family members and friends.  That little voice inside your head, you might be hearing it right now, is the biggest judger of all.

Let’s face it, no one likes to be judged.  Yourself included.

When we listen with a focus on fixing, solving and/ or telling others what to do, we are listening with a focus, judging.  When we judge others, we aren’t open to understanding them.  We think we know best.   We think we are ‘right’ and they are ‘wrong’.  When we judge we are choosing to listen to what we want to hear rather than choosing to listen to understand what is actually being said.  In fact, if emotions are involved then often there is no listening at all.  Our judgment determines we are right and our brain shuts down. Listening stops altogether.  When we judge we believe that our perspective is the only perspective.

This approach shuts conversations down and fractures relationships.  There is no opportunity to learn or understand new thoughts, ideas, perspectives, and experiences.  Problem-solving and critical thinking becomes impossible.  As leaders and parents, we expect our team members and kids to solve problems for themselves.  Yet, every time we choose to listen without learning and understanding, we never give them the opportunities to do so.

*It is important to note: As professionals, there is absolutely a time and place for professional judgment.  This is not what I am referring to here.

If you want to communicate effectively – especially in high stakes, emotional situations – then it is imperative to understand when you are listening to judge and when you are listening to learn.  One choice enables reacting, the other choice enables responding.



As you go about your day, pay attention to how much judging you are doing with yourself and others.  How often are you hearing a “Yah, but.. “?  How focused are you on being right or proving a point?  Ask yourself how often do you tell others what to do, fixing and solving “problems” for others without even being asked?


As you enter into a conversation today, focus on being open.  Set an intention to suspend your judgment, quiet that little gremlin voice in your head, and keep your full attention on the speaker to listen and learn.

This doesn’t mean that you have to agree with what you hear.  It doesn’t even mean you have to even like what is said.  All it means is that you are choosing to listen to understand. You are choosing to listen to learn about their thoughts, experiences, perspectives, and point of view.  Then just leave it at that.  See what you learn.  Notice how you feel.

Remember, you always have a choice in how you listen.  Even not listening is still a choice.

Kirsten Siggins

Kirsten Siggins

Co-Founder of The Institute of Curiosity, Co-Author of The Power of Curiosity, Communication Ambassador for Wealthy Woman Warrior™

We specialize in high-quality conversations that build high-quality relationships. That means we help people STOP reacting (to people, emotions, events) and learn to start RESPONDING to engage and inspire others, especially in emotional or high stakes situations.


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