All about the mind

How to listen better

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In the wake of Robin Williams’ suicide and the outpouring of grief and posts about mental illness {mine included}, one thing that stood out to me was how we all agree that we need to talk about mental health and reduce the stigma around it. But what we don’t say in all this is what to do when someone does talk to you about their mental health concerns. We haven’t spoken about how to listen better when someone discloses they are depressed or anxious or suicidal. It’s all very well to refer them to a mental health professional but in the mean time, as family and friends, it is still important to do something. And that little something is to Listen.

Here are some ideas to help you listen better:

1. Be an active listener: One of the first things we learn in counselling 101 is how to be an active listener. Active listening doesn’t involve just hearing what the other person says and nodding along or adding your uh-huh and hmms. It means showing the person you have listened. The way you do that is by hearing, taking in the information and then reflecting back what you have heard. Basically, it’s about paraphrasing what you have heard and feeding it back to the person thereby ensuring you are on the same page as them and are listening to them.

2. Validate: When someone tells you they are feeling depressed and that nothing seems to be going right in their lives, don’t jump straight to trying to solve their problem. Worse still, don’t dismiss them or tell them to get over it. Instead, validate their feelings. How do you do that? Well, after actively listening to how they are feeling telling them something like “it must be difficult to have deal with ___” or “I can see how helpless you are feeling with nothing working out the way you want it”. Basically, validation involves showing understanding that it is OK to feel this way and that it must truly suck! Do not at any stage tell them you know exactly how they feel. Because face it, you don’t! When you effectively listen to and validate someone’s feelings, they are more likely to open up further.

3. Get rid of your own prejudices: One of the biggest barriers to listening to someone is your own prejudices. Do you think mental health is just an ‘excuse’? Do you think people should just ‘get over’ depression or anxiety? Do you think suicidal thoughts and self-harm are just ‘attention-seeking’? Chances are, you are never going to be able to listen to someone effectively with that mindset! First and foremost, be aware of your own prejudices. Then educate yourself. Most of our prejudices come out of ignorance. The sooner we educate ourselves, the better it is for us and the people around us.

4. Be genuine: If you are going to have prejudices and try and fake it, rest assured, the person talking to you will pick up on it and will shut down. It is important to be genuine. If you don’t understand something, ask. If you don’t understand why they are feeling depressed when on the outside, you can see everything is fine, explore gently. People don’t mind clarifications. What they don’t like is assumptions and judgement.

5. Be okay with silence: Sometimes the person going through depression or anxiety might not be able to find the words to explain their predicament. It’s OK. Just be with them. Be OK with the silence. Don’t feel obliged to fill it in with platitudes or your own experiences or advice from self-help magazines. Just sit there. Be there. Give them a hug if they want. They will eventually open up once they themselves figure out what’s going on. And sometimes, they may have just wanted to sit in that silence and know you are there.

Have you got any tips on listening better? What irks you most when you try to tell people how you really feel? 

Do share!

Note: Please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Mensline on 1300 78 99 78 if you need someone to listen

photo credit: B Rosen via photopin cc

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

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  • Susan
    August 14, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    Excellent suggestions!
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  • Susan
    August 14, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    Excellent suggestions!
    Susan recently posted…Writing About WritingMy Profile

  • simple girl
    August 14, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    I related the pointers to how my therapist behaved.. And I am just grateful to her.. How she helped me through that difficult time.. I just wish her all the good in life..
    simple girl recently posted…Trying to be sane…My Profile

    • Sanch @ Living my Imperfect Life
      August 18, 2014 at 9:04 pm

      Oh SG, I’m so glad your experience with the therapist was positive. Makes such a big difference! Mine made me realise the importance of listening and validating as well! 🙂

  • simple girl
    August 14, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    I related the pointers to how my therapist behaved.. And I am just grateful to her.. How she helped me through that difficult time.. I just wish her all the good in life..
    simple girl recently posted…Trying to be sane…My Profile

    • Sanch @ Living my Imperfect Life
      August 18, 2014 at 9:04 pm

      Oh SG, I’m so glad your experience with the therapist was positive. Makes such a big difference! Mine made me realise the importance of listening and validating as well! 🙂

  • Soumya
    August 14, 2014 at 11:33 pm

    So proud of you for writing this!
    Soumya recently posted…The First CutMy Profile

  • Soumya
    August 14, 2014 at 11:33 pm

    So proud of you for writing this!
    Soumya recently posted…The First CutMy Profile

  • Min@Minsmash
    August 15, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    Fantastic points there Sanch! All fine and good to refer people to Lifeline etc but family and friends need to know what to do there and then and LISTENING is so important and the 5 points to help people listen better are awesome! 🙂
    Min@Minsmash recently posted…Poll: Help me decide on a photography business name – Part 2My Profile

    • Sanch @ Living my Imperfect Life
      August 18, 2014 at 9:00 pm

      Thanks Min…I think we forget sometimes that we can also help our loved ones by just listening to them… 🙂

  • Min@Minsmash
    August 15, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    Fantastic points there Sanch! All fine and good to refer people to Lifeline etc but family and friends need to know what to do there and then and LISTENING is so important and the 5 points to help people listen better are awesome! 🙂
    Min@Minsmash recently posted…Poll: Help me decide on a photography business name – Part 2My Profile

    • Sanch @ Living my Imperfect Life
      August 18, 2014 at 9:00 pm

      Thanks Min…I think we forget sometimes that we can also help our loved ones by just listening to them… 🙂

  • Lisa (@lybliss)
    August 15, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Great points, although I’m personally of the opinion that you can ( if you have had experience with depression yourself) say “I’ve been there” It’s not the same as saying I know exactly how you feel, but it’s acknowledging that you too have been in that sad dark place and understand how scary it is. Being okay with silence is huge. We in our western culture are so desperate to fill in the silence but it’s so important to be able to just sit and let someone think.
    Lisa (@lybliss) recently posted…An everyday family traditionMy Profile

    • Sanch @ Living my Imperfect Life
      August 18, 2014 at 9:02 pm

      Thanks for your comment Lisa — you do have a point with “I’ve been there” but I know a lot of people who like to say “I know exactly how you feel…” and I feel like retorting back “Um no you don’t!” 😀 Oh and the silence issue — we do struggle with it, don’t we?! I see so many parents who just want their teens to talk and find it hard when I tell them to just sit and wait.

  • Lisa (@lybliss)
    August 15, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Great points, although I’m personally of the opinion that you can ( if you have had experience with depression yourself) say “I’ve been there” It’s not the same as saying I know exactly how you feel, but it’s acknowledging that you too have been in that sad dark place and understand how scary it is. Being okay with silence is huge. We in our western culture are so desperate to fill in the silence but it’s so important to be able to just sit and let someone think.
    Lisa (@lybliss) recently posted…An everyday family traditionMy Profile

    • Sanch @ Living my Imperfect Life
      August 18, 2014 at 9:02 pm

      Thanks for your comment Lisa — you do have a point with “I’ve been there” but I know a lot of people who like to say “I know exactly how you feel…” and I feel like retorting back “Um no you don’t!” 😀 Oh and the silence issue — we do struggle with it, don’t we?! I see so many parents who just want their teens to talk and find it hard when I tell them to just sit and wait.

  • Emily @ Have A Laugh On Me
    August 15, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    Thank you for this, I feel at times that I can do better, but it’s hard if you don’t know how. I also wish that some of the people that I know would read this!! x
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    • Sanch @ Living my Imperfect Life
      August 18, 2014 at 7:50 pm

      Thanks Em…listening is hard work and I think people don’t realise that {I didn’t either for a long time!} But it can be so very effective…

  • Emily @ Have A Laugh On Me
    August 15, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    Thank you for this, I feel at times that I can do better, but it’s hard if you don’t know how. I also wish that some of the people that I know would read this!! x
    Emily @ Have A Laugh On Me recently posted…Is it just me or has this week been shithouse?My Profile

    • Sanch @ Living my Imperfect Life
      August 18, 2014 at 7:50 pm

      Thanks Em…listening is hard work and I think people don’t realise that {I didn’t either for a long time!} But it can be so very effective…

  • Zita
    August 15, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    Great tips and what a lot of people need right now in the wake of Robin Williams’ death.
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  • Zita
    August 15, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    Great tips and what a lot of people need right now in the wake of Robin Williams’ death.
    Zita recently posted…for a Pinterest OutfitMy Profile

  • Bikram
    August 15, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    Valid points and some that we all need to learn as not just with those who are not well we can use them in all circumstances

    Bikram’s
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  • Bikram
    August 15, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    Valid points and some that we all need to learn as not just with those who are not well we can use them in all circumstances

    Bikram’s
    Bikram recently posted…How to live and Die (2 and 3)- My ViewsMy Profile

  • R U OK Day and connecting with the world - Living my Imperfect Life
    August 18, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    […] Be open: Listen with an open mind and an open heart. People talk when they know you are genuinely listening. I have previously talked about how to listen. […]

  • R U OK Day and connecting with the world - Living my Imperfect Life
    August 18, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    […] Be open: Listen with an open mind and an open heart. People talk when they know you are genuinely listening. I have previously talked about how to listen. […]

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