Listening skills are at the very core of working as a therapist. When I began my training I was struck by how much society in general would benefit from learning some of these basic empathic listening skills.
As anxiety and stresses abound in the current public health crisis we are experiencing, I thought it might be helpful to share some listening skills with you all, so that you might be better able to respond to someone who is struggling.
- Listening is the word to focus on here! Listening does not imply that you need to have the ‘right’ answer, or indeed any answer at all.
- Try to keep the conversation about the person who is expressing their worries, if you can. For example, avoid turning it around to you – “oh I totally know what you mean, when I feel like that I…”. While sharing coping strategies can sometimes be helpful, this style of conversation can make the person in crisis feel unheard.
- Try to avoid platitudes e.g. “tomorrow is another day”, or comparisons “there are people worse off”. Neither acknowledge the reality of the feeling in the moment for the person trying to express their emotions.
- Ask questions to clarify what they’re saying, to ensure you are understanding the message they’re trying to get across. Phrases like “it sounds like what you’re saying is…” or “just to clarify, do you mean that you have been feeling…” can be helpful.
Here are some core values contained in a non-judgemental listening style
- Acceptance – Respecting the person’s feelings, experiences and values even though they might differ to your own.
- Genuineness – This does not mean pretending or demonstrating understanding when you don’t feel it, but rather trying to reach a place where you can see that their feelings and experiences are real and important to them even if they differ from your own. Avoid making a moral judgement.
- Empathy – empathy is the ability to place yourself in another person’s shoes. Try to get on their wavelength.
This can be particularly hard to get across online, where there is a high risk of misunderstandings. If you are worried about someone try to private message or call them rather than use a comment section, and if you feel unable to help in a more in-depth way, encourage the person to consider what their options are in terms of seeking help and support, and if appropriate, signpost them to services you are familiar with.