When we truly listen, people feel valued, cared for and more likely to trust us with their thoughts and feelings. You become someone people can turn to when they need to talk.
To mark the Samaritans 24/7 Awareness Day, we’re sharing some tips from our wellbeing team on how to become a more empathetic listener.
Empathy demonstrates an understanding of someone’s situation, experience and feelings – and makes them feel heard, acknowledged and responded to. There are different ways we can do this:
Active listening shows engagement, attentiveness and understanding, whilst allowing someone to speak.
- Give the person some space – let them talk and explain their situation, don’t jump in with your words straight away
- Use non-verbal ‘minimal’ sounds or words to let the person know you are still engaged, but enabling them to continue to speak, for example: ‘mmmm’, ‘yes’, ‘uhuh’, ‘ok’, ‘I see.’
- Allow a little silence – you don’t have to fill it all
Reflecting acts like a mirror – reflecting back the situation and feelings so the person you’re listening to knows that they have been heard and understood.
- Reflecting can be done by paraphrasing or repeating back the person’s words
- ‘That sounds like it is difficult for you.’
- ‘You said that you have a lot on your plate at the moment.’
- ‘I can hear that you are quite upset and angry about things.’
Empathy is not
- Saying ‘I know how you feel.’, or telling someone that you have had the same experience
- Offering pity or platitudes, for example: ‘Oh you poor thing.’, ‘That’s so sad.’, ‘I don’t know how you cope.’
Remember that the person you are speaking to is a human being, just like you.
- Be aware of your feelings and how this might influence the way you behave or sound
- Be aware there may be all sorts of feelings underneath how a person presents – even if they are angry, upset, aloof, confused, etc
- Depersonalise the situation – even if it feels like it, it is usually not about you
Use your voice
- Helpful, patient and warm voice
- Be mindful of tone – sound calm, not too loud or quiet
- Keep an even pace – not to fast or too slow
- Speak clearly
- People often talk loudly and quickly if they are upset. Try not to mirror the tone. Adjusting your tone by lowering your volume and slowing your pace can help diffuse a situation if someone is talking quickly or loudly.
Open questions help explore further and encourage someone to talk. These often begin with who, why, how, what and where, for example:
- ‘What is the situation now?
- ‘How do you feel about the situation now?’
- ‘Why do you think that situation arose?’
Or this can be achieved with an encouraging sentence, for example:
- ‘Maybe you’d like to tell me more about the situation’
Use closed questions for facts. Generally, these elicit yes/no answers or specific information, for example:
- Were you there when it happened?
- Are you ok?
If you ever need to talk to someone about living with a visible difference, our Support and Information line is here for you. Call us 10am-4pm Monday to Friday on 0300 012 0275.