Sometimes I think to myself, if only friends, partners, parents and relatives knew how to listen, there would be less work for psychologists. In fact, I think it should be mandatory for everyone to take some sort of courses to gain some sort of knowledge.

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When a loved one suffers, we sometimes don’t pay enough attention. We often use phrases:- “Everything will be alright”, “Please don’t start this topic again”, “Don’t be silly” or “I wish my problems were that small”. In many cases, that’s where the conversation ends. The loved one then feels unwanted, lonely and they feel like they have no one to talk to. Some people end up keeping their troubles trapped inside, others call helplines or give so avoided psychologist a visit.

But when we use those phrases we are not reluctant to giving them a helping hand. After all we care about that person a lot. When we say to them “Everything will be fine”, we are only trying to cheer them up. By giving these comments and advice we try to sort the troubled situation out. By belittling those difficulties we try to show the person that maybe, their situation is not that bad after all. But, however small the problem may seem to us, it may be a catastrophe to them. Talking it out and an open conversation can sometimes shed a light to the different side of their problem. Sometimes they can feel relieved after just one good and honest conversation. In other cases, the conversation can relieve emotional burden and provide opportunities for the person to focus on solving the issue.

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We often face the fact that we have no idea on what to say to the person. In life I came to realise that what we say is not as important as when we actually Listen.  It’s very important to not push their problems away and to just accept what they are saying. We don’t have to rush in to solving the problems or to give advice. Because at the end of the day, we care about this person so much! We are not expected to know what to say to them and we don’t have to say anything at all. The most important thing is to listen and to encourage them to talk it out.

Active listening consists of several parts:

  • Paraphrasing.
  • Reflection.
  • Encouragement. 
  • Open questions. 
  • Clarification.
  • Summary. 
  • Silence.
  • Response. 

Paraphrasing is whatever the other person says, repeating it using our own words. This will show them that we understand what they are saying. And if we did get it wrong, this will give this person a chance to rephrase their words. This may increase mutual understanding.

Reflection– is naming the persons feelings. Understanding the effect their problems have on them.

Encouragement- short phrases to make pauses in the conversation less awkward. This will encourage the person to carry on talking and will show them we are listening to them.

Open questions- those type of questions encourage the person to answer in sentences and not just single words.

Clarification– an attempt to understand the talker better, asking about the details of the problem or checking on what they said was correct.

Summary – is using shorter version of their story and highlighting the most important details. This shows the person that we have been listening and helps us to have a better understanding of what was said.

Silence- is having a silent moment with the person without trying to fill it with useless phrases and not pressuring them. This allows them to reflect on their feelings, experiences, making sense of themselves and the situations they are in.

Response- is drawing attention to changes in the conversation. The person may start to cry. We have to be there to reassure them and just tell them that it’s OK to cry and just waiting for them to be ready to carry on talking. Pay attention on changes in their tone of voice and body language.

Just remember- there isn’t anything bad we can say to them and if that happens, they will clearly display their emotions towards it and their facial expressions will change. If that does happen, we can always just apologise and encourage them to talk again. We just need to show them that we care about them and their problems, because we honestly do. Show them that we support them no matter what and they can trust in talking to us, we will not judge or push them away. Let your loved one be who they are and to feel the way they are feeling at that moment, no matter how bad it is.

-KMinderland