Just listening… sounds simple enough right?
But how often do we feel the need to jump into giving advice and solutions when someone comes to us for support? How often has someone else done this when all we've wanted is to be listened to?
It may sound easy, but just listening is something we regularly forget to do, and yet this can often be the most valuable way we can provide support for someone. Many problems and challenges can't be solved quickly or from one conversation, it's just about finding ways to get through the tough times. Having someone just sit and listen in these times can help make things feel a little lighter.
So how do we listen actively and mindfully? This is something that does take practice– but it's also something we can practice every day. A big part of listening effectively involves putting our own judgements aside and taking everything that's said with an open mind. Think about it as listening with curiosity and the intent of understanding rather than giving advice or having an answer. A good guide for doing this and demonstrating that we're actively listening is the three R's: Repeat, reflect and respond.
- Repeat: This is exactly what it sounds like – just repeating key things that the other person has said. This doesn't necessarily mean, copying word-for-word what they're saying, rather summarising what the other person is talking about, or repeating short sentences and words. This maintains that you are present and listening, and can help the other person feel safe in the conversation and keep sharing. It can also provide the other person the opportunity to correct or clarify anything that you may have misunderstood.
- Reflect: Similar to repeating but involves offering some basic insight into the other person's experiences, and reflecting on what you've heard. For example, stating 'so, you're feeling hurt by what your friend has done and you're not sure how to bring this up with them?' Reflective statements such as these, not only show that you've been listening but that you're interested as well, providing space for the other person to delve deeper into what has been happening for them.
- Respond: Listening doesn't necessarily mean remaining impassive, responding to what has been said shows that you are interested in and value what the other person is saying. Statements such as 'that must have been so hard' and 'I'm so sorry you had to experience that' are direct and supportive. However, often silence is also helpful – non-verbal responses can be just as effective. Nodding your head, facing towards the other person, maintaining eye contact and not interrupting while the other person talks are all things that demonstrate our attention.
This may seem like a lot to take in – and actively listening is something that may feel tricky when we're not used to doing it. But realistically the most important thing is to just be genuinely interested in hearing what the other person has to say and holding the time and space to let them voice and explore what they've been experiencing.
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