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Mental Health - tips on being a good listener

Active listening

Active listening is understanding what someone is saying, without judgement or expectation.

In a conversation, it involves:

  • concentrating
  • understanding
  • responding
  • remembering what is being said

The following are some helpful "SHUSH" listening tips from Samaritans.

1. Show you care

Focus on the other person, make eye contact and put away your phone.

To listen to somebody, you need to give them your full attention. Make eye contact. This takes practice so don't be too hard on yourself.

Tips to help show you care

  • When starting the conversation, don't talk about yourself at all.
  • Keep a listening diary for a week.
  • Note what challenged and distracted you and what went well.
  • Aim to learn at least one new thing about the person who is talking to you.

2. Have patience

It may take time and several attempts before someone is ready to open up.

The person sharing shouldn't feel rushed. If they do, they won't feel it's a safe environment. Wait if the other person has paused during their response. They may not have finished speaking.

It might take some time for them to think about what they are saying. They may find it difficult to articulate how they are feeling.

Effective listening is about trusting the other person. They trust you to listen and not to judge. You trust them to try to describe feelings, through language, body language or subtext.

Conversations are open to interpretation. Through non-judgmental listening, you are allowing the person to relax into the conversation. They can use it as a place to reflect or work through difficult emotions.

3. Use open questions

These need more than a yes or no answer.

An open-ended question means not jumping in with your own ideas about how the other person may be feeling. These type of questions make a person pause, think, reflect and expand.

Open-ended questions let people open up a bit more. They often start with 'how' or 'what'. For example, asking, "How do you feel about your situation?". This can open up a conversation more than saying something like, "Do you feel depressed?".

What you're doing is letting them get whatever's bothering them out in the open and to figure it out. Another good question to ask is "Can you tell me a bit more about that?".

Avoid asking questions or saying something that closes down the conversation. Open-ended questions encourage someone to talk.

The conversation is a safe space for them and nothing they say is right or wrong. Try asking: "How are you feeling today?".

4. Say it back

Check you've understood, but don't interrupt or offer a solution.

Repeating something back to somebody is a good way to make someone know you are paying attention. You can check to see that you're hearing what they want you to hear.

5. Have courage

Don't be put off by a negative response and don't feel you have to fill a silence.

It can feel intrusive to ask someone how they feel. You'll soon see if someone is uncomfortable and doesn't want to engage with you at that level. Sometimes it is exactly what somebody needs - to be able to share what is going on in their mind.

Watch these active listening videos from

page last reviewed: 23/09/2018
next review due: 23/09/2021

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