Being there for people, and offering a listening ear when they need to talk, will make a big difference for them and for you.
Active listening involves really trying to understand what the other person is saying, without imposing our own expectations or judgements. Samaritans shared the following active listening tips with us.
1 - Show You Care
Focus on the other person, make eye contact and put away your phone
Life can be extremely busy and in this age of constant digital connectivity, multi-tasking has become the norm. Samaritans says that to really listen to somebody, you need to give them your full attention, maintain eye contact and be engaged. Getting into this habit takes practice so don’t be too hard on yourself and keep using these handy tips.
- When starting the conversation resolve not to talk about yourself at all.
- Keep a listening diary – just for a week.
- Record how many times you listened really well, note what challenges and distracts you and what you think went well.
- Aim to learn at least one new thing about the person who is talking to you.
2 - Have Patience
It may take time and several attempts before a person is ready to open up
Time is key when listening to someone. The person sharing shouldn’t feel rushed, or they won’t feel it’s a safe environment. If the other person has paused in their response, wait. They may not have finished speaking. Remember it might take them some time to formulate what they are saying, or they may find it difficult to articulate how they are feeling. Effective listening is about trusting the other person. They trust you to listen and not to judge, you trust them to try to describe feelings, whether directly or indirectly, through language, body language or subtext. All conversations are open to interpretation and through non-judgemental listening, you are allowing the person to relax into the conversation and to use it as a place to reflect or work through difficult emotions.
3 - Use Open Questions
These need more than a yes/no answer, and follow up e.g., "tell me more"
An open-ended question means not jumping in with your own ideas about how the other person may be feeling. These questions are objective and require a person to pause, think and reflect and then hopefully expand. Avoid asking questions or saying something that closes down the conversation. Open-ended questions encourage them to talk, the conversation is a safe space that you are holding for them and nothing they say is right or wrong. Try asking, how are you feeling today?
4 - Say it Back
To check you've understood, but don't interrupt or offer a solution
Repeating something back to somebody is a really good way to reassure them that they have your undivided attention and you can check to see that you’re hearing what they want you to hear, not putting your own interpretation on the conversation.
5 - Have Courage
Don't be put off by a negative response and, most importantly, don't feel you have to fill a silence
It can feel really intrusive and counter intuitive to ask someone how they feel. You’ll soon see if someone is uncomfortable and doesn’t want to engage with you at that level. You will be surprised at how willing people are to listen and how, sometimes, it is exactly what somebody needs to be able to share what is going on their mind.
Below, you can also watch videos from our partner organisation SpunOut.ie. They spoke to three young people who have lived experience of mental health difficulties and the three friends who offered them support during those difficulties.