Without meaning to, I plunge myself into the muck of judgment. I suddenly find myself believing that there is a bad person in the room. Sometimes, I believe it’s me. Sometimes, I think it’s you. In that moment, I want to “forgive with wild abandon.” The truth is, there are no bad people. I had to take a moment before writing that sentence, to make sure I believe it. I do. There are no bad people. There are people who do bad things. There are people who are horrendously wounded, but they are not bad. That doesn’t stop me from getting confused and thinking you are bad. Especially, when I feel hurt.

This promise calls on me to drop the right/wrong, good/bad judgments. They aren’t useful.

Do I feel hurt? What is it, exactly, that’s going on? What do I feel? What do I need? I want to take a moment to identify those things internally and, for now, set them aside and listen to you.

What do you feel? What do you need?

Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh defines deep listening as “when you listen to the other person, you have only one purpose: to offer him the opportunity to empty his heart.” Practitioners of nonviolent communication speak of a shift that happens when someone feels heard. As a listener, I reflect back what I have heard. If I do it wrong, the other will correct me:

“No, I don’t feel angry, I feel disappointed that…”

If I do it right, the other may say more:

“Yes, angry and betrayed…”

After enough rephrasing, correcting, expanding and repeating, the conversation will wind down – a signal that you have emptied your heart and we might be ready to move on. That’s when I can talk about my feelings and needs. I do so realizing that they are mine. You did not cause them. My own perceptions of my needs and whether or not they are being met gave rise to these feelings. Once I have identified and expressed my needs and feelings, then we consider strategies. Is there a way we can both get our needs met?

Deep listening means setting aside my own feelings and needs for a time.

Deep listening means leaning forward and being here with you.

Deep listening means letting there be silence if you need time to think.

Loving speech means rephrasing what I heard you say without judgments or accusations.

Loving speech means taking responsibility for my feelings and needs.

Loving speech means speaking gently with you as we find our way through together.

Deep listening, loving speech brings peace.