Every day we hear people talking to us but do we really listen to what they say?
There are sounds we associate with our daily lives – the radio in the morning, people in the street, the TV in the evening, the Youtube video from our phone, our parents telling us what we should eat and when to go to bed.
We hear our friends when they talk to us but do we really listen to what they’re saying? When someone comes to us with a problem, do we listen carefully or do we immediately start thinking about what we’re going to say back to them.
Often people listen to respond, instead of listening to understand.
The Childline Listening service uses a technique called ‘active listening.’
Instead of trying to solve the situation, it helps keep the focus on talking about and understanding the nuances of what the speaker feels which can be very calming, reassuring and even healing.
Here are 5 ways you can be a better, more active listener:
1. Put your phone away
If you’re distracted by something on your phone, you’re not giving the other person your full attention. This can be hurtful for them, especially if what they’re telling you is particularly difficult for them to admit. They deserve your time and focus. Leave your phone out of the conversation.
2. Make eye contact
In order to empathise and encourage the person to continue talking to you, it’s vital that you look into their eyes and show that you’re fully engaged in what they’re telling you. Shifting in your seat or dodging their gaze can give the impression that what they’re saying is making you uncomfortable, that you’re judging them or that you’d rather be somewhere else.
3. Don’t interrupt
When someone is telling you something heartfelt or emotional that you identify with, it’s natural to feel the urge to say ‘Oh my God, me too! I know exactly how you feel!’. Maybe you do, but this is their story. It won’t be the exact same as yours and you need to be understanding and respectful of that. Also, it’s not your job to fix their problem. Just being there for them is enough.
If they ask you to support them in finding help, that’s your cue to offer advice on where they might turn to feel better.
4. Nod to show you understand
It can be hard to stay quiet when someone you care about is in distress or even when someone you don’t know very well is telling you about their struggles.
While you don’t want to interrupt them, it’s good to nod every once in a while to show them that you’re following their story and that you understand what they’re saying.
5. Observe their body language
A big part of ‘active listening’ is taking the person’s entire demeanour into account. Are they fidgeting or clutching their hands? Are they avoiding eye contact? Is their voice shaking? These can all be signs that they’re nervous, that they’re worried about what you think or perhaps that there’s more going on that they’re willing to share right now.
That’s okay. Let them talk and once they’re finished, reassure them that you’re there whenever they need them and that you’ll help them get the support they need when they’re ready.