For all of us the role of listener can be a bit unnerving. We are much more used to talking so in terms of assisting someone who wants to express themselves to us we need to become more passive.
The funny thing is that listening seems to be so challenging when actually it can be quickly and easily learnt by using the techniques of Active Listening. Active Listening is widely used by helplines such as the Samaritans as it allows a consistent approach, established empathy but, importantly, also allows the listener to keep distance between themselves and the person who wants to talk.
It is actually ok to ask someone about their mental state. We need to know where their thoughts are going even though it may seem challenging.
So how do you ask a someone about their thinking?
- DO be yourself. Let the person know you care, that he/she is not alone. The right words are often unimportant. If you are concerned, your voice and manner will show it.
- DO Listen. Let the person unload despair, ventilate anger. No matter how negative the conversation seems, the fact that it exists is a positive sign.
- DO be sympathetic, non-judgmental, patient, calm, accepting. Your friend or family member is doing the right thing by talking about his/her feelings.
- DO offer hope. Reassure the person that help is available and that their situation is temporary. Let the person know that his or her life is important to you.
- If the person says things like, “I’m so depressed, I can’t go on,” ask the question: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” You are not putting ideas in their head; you are showing that you are concerned, that you take them seriously, and that it’s OK for them to share their pain with you.
- DON’T argue with the suicidal person. Avoid saying things like: "You have so much to live for," "Your suicide will hurt your family," or “Look on the bright side.”
- DON’T act shocked, lecture on the value of life, or say that suicide is wrong.
- DON’T promise confidentiality. Refuse to be sworn to secrecy. A life is at stake and you may need to speak to a mental health professional in order to keep the suicidal person safe. If you promise to keep your discussions secret, you may have to break your word.
- DON’T offer ways to fix their problems, or give advice, or make them feel like they have to justify their suicidal feelings. It is not about how bad the problem is, but how badly it’s hurting your friend or loved one.
- DON’T blame yourself. You can’t “fix” someone’s depression. Your loved one’s happiness or lack thereof, is not your responsibility.
"Active Listening" is simply the offering of friendship by one ordinary human being to another at a time of crisis or loneliness. An Active Listener doesn’t need to have professional status or authority, but is simply a fellow human being who cares. The purpose of Active Listening is to listen, accept, care and empathise.
Allowing the person with a problem to express and to talk without being judged.
Allowing the person to stay in neutral and accept their feelings as they are.
Allowing one human being to reach out to another human being with respect.
Allowing the listener to hear where the speaker is coming from and allows us to be sensitive to another's feelings or ideas even when we don’t agree.
The purpose of Active Listening is not to give advice, instruct, solve problems, or judge. It is to respect the worth and value of another human being through Listening, Accepting, Caring, and Empathising.
A good Active Listener is someone who:
listen more than talk
direct the conversation to the painful feelings
have compassion for sufferer
risk being foolish
attempt to be available at all times
remain willing to share another person's pain
× offer opinion or judgments
× belittle or minimise concerns
× discuss one's own problems
× give advice
× express shock or surprise
× patronise or probe
× offer platitudes and clichés
× make promises that cannot be kept
× interpret, lecture or diagnose
× Say "I know just how you feel."
× fail to pay attention or care
Attitude of the listener
YOU ARE NOT LISTENING TO ME WHEN...
- You do not care about me;
- You say you understand before you know me well enough;
- You have an answer for my problem before I've finished telling you what my problem is;
- You cut me off before I have finished speaking;
- You find me boring and don't tell me;
- You feel critical of my vocabulary, grammar or accent;
- You are dying to tell me something;
- You tell me about your experience making mine seem unimportant;
- You are communicating with someone else in the room;
- You refuse my thanks by saying you haven't really done anything.
YOU ARE LISTENING TO ME WHEN...
- You come quietly into my private world and let me be me;
- You really try to understand me even if I’m not making much sense
- You grasp my point of view even if it goes against your own sincere convictions;
- You realize the hour I took from you has left you a bit tired and drained;
- You allow me the dignity of making my own decisions even though you think they may be wrong;
- You do not take my problem from me, but allow me to deal with it in my own way;
- You hold back your desire to give me good advice
- You do not offer me religious solace when you sense I am not ready for it;
- You give me enough room to discover for myself what is going on;
- You accept my gift of gratitude by telling me how good it makes you feel to know you have been helpful