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It’s hard to be nonjudgmental all the time. We automatically make judgments about people from the minute we first see or meet them based on appearance, behavior and what they say. And that’s okay. Nonjudgmental listening isn’t about avoiding those judgments – it’s about making sure that you don’t express those negative judgments because that can get in the way of helping someone in need.

When you’re trying to be there for your friend, neighbor or colleague, it’s important to maintain a positive attitude and open mind to truly be supportive. Use these Mental Health First Aid tips to be an effective nonjudgmental listener for those around you.

  1. Reflect on your own state of mind.
    Before approaching someone with your concerns, it’s important to make sure you are in the right frame of mind to talk and listen without being judgmental. Reflect on your own state of mind to make sure you are feeling calm, open and ready to help your peer in need.
  2. Adopt an attitude of acceptance, genuineness and empathy.
    Adopting an attitude of acceptance means respecting the person’s feelings, personal values and experiences as valid, even if they are different from your own or you disagree with them. Taking time to imagine yourself in the other person’s place can help you be more genuine and empathic.
  3. Use verbal skills to show that you’re listening.
    Simple verbal skills can help you show the person that you’re actively listening. This includes asking questions, listening to tone of voice and nonverbal cues being used, using minimal prompts like “I see” and “ah” and not interrupting the person to give them time to express their thoughts and feelings.
  4. Maintain positive body language.
    Positive body language can show the person that you’re listening and truly care. This includes maintaining comfortable eye contact, sitting down instead of standing, sitting alongside and angled toward the person rather than directly opposite him or her and maintaining an open body position.
  5. Recognize cultural differences.
    If you are helping someone from a cultural background different from your own, you might need to adjust some verbal and nonverbal behaviors, such as the level of eye contact or amount of personal space. Be prepared to discuss what is culturally appropriate and realistic for the person or seek advice from someone from the same cultural background before engaging with him or her.

These tips are just a place to start. You can also get trained in Mental Health First Aid and learn about other ways to listen nonjudgmentally and support those around you. The MHFA Action Plan – ALGEE – will help you approach and talk to a person in distress and respond in a safe and effective way to get them the help they need. Get trained today and #BeTheDifference in the lives of your loved ones.