Listening is something we do every day. For most of us, it feels as though it comes quite naturally. But have you ever thought about how you’re listening, or whether you’re actually being a good listener?
When someone comes to you wanting to talk about how they’re feeling, it’s important to get it right. The goal of listening isn’t to fix someone’s problems, but to make them feel heard and understood. While family and friends may naturally give advice to one another, it is often important to allow someone the time to simply express their feelings.
Luckily, offering a listening ear that people can rely on is easy. You just need to be aware of a few simple things…
To be a good listener, you should…
- Use inviting body language in order to show that you’re invested in the conversation. This can include making eye-contact, leaning in slightly to demonstrate you’re listening, nodding your head or smiling.
- Make them feel comfortable by matching their tone and pace throughout the conversation. For example, if they’re speaking in brief sentences, don’t launch into long-winded responses. The same goes if their tone is quite down or flat. While it might be tempting to act upbeat and positive in order to cheer them up, it can instead come across as you downplaying how they’re feeling.
- When you’re listening, the most important thing you need to be doing is understanding what they’re saying. You should always acknowledge what they’re telling you and seeking to clarify if you aren’t sure what they mean. You can do this by…
- Using positive verbal gestures, such as saying “right”, “I understand” or “yes, that makes sense.”
- Once they have finished explaining something, you should repeat what they’ve said back to them in your own words and ask if you’ve got it right.
- If you haven’t understood correctly, ask them which parts you have gotten wrong. Then repeat your understanding back again, as you did before. Do this until you have the full picture.
What not to do…
- Don’t compare what your loved one is going through to your own experiences. While you might want to do this to show your understanding, it brings the focus onto yourself when it should be on them.
- Don’t give them advice or offer solutions for their problems. Remember that listening is the most important thing to do at this stage.
- Don’t prepare responses while they are talking. You should be completely focused on listening to them. If you aren’t, this often comes across in your face or body language (even when you think it isn’t!)
- Don’t judge the person or what they’re going through. Regardless of what you might think of the situation, their experiences and feelings are real. In these situations, having someone to talk to could make them feel a lot better.
Hold up… I can’t give advice? I want to help!
As we mentioned earlier, there are definitely times when giving advice might be helpful for some people. However, you shouldn’t go into a conversation with someone with the sole purpose of solving their problems. When it comes to giving advice, you should follow a few core instructions to ensure you’re helping in the right way. You should always try to connect them with a mental health professional who can guide them towards health and happiness. This will ensure they get the best treatment for their needs.
At Ok To Talk, we match people all over Australia with a psychologist who is right for them. Get started today!