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National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Practice Active Listening to Become a Better Supporter

By Leora Klachkin

It can be difficult to know how to respond when a friend is struggling emotionally. You may feel nervous, confused or afraid you will say the wrong thing. You may even be tempted to say nothing at all. It may comfort you to know that when someone is having a rough time, listening is one of the most powerful things you can do.

There’s a big difference between hearing someone talk and actively listening to what they are saying. Hearing is just the action of receiving information by ear, while active listening requires concentration and understanding. It may sound complicated, but improving your listening skills is easy to do with practice and these helpful tips.

Acknowledge the Speaker

This can be as simple as a head nod or an “Uh huh.” By acknowledging the speaker, you are letting them know that you are listening to what they have to say and reminding yourself to pay attention to what is being said to you.

Respond Verbally

Asking questions or making statements may help clarify what the speaker is saying. It reminds the speaker that you are listening attentively and that you are here to help them and are truly concerned. Be sure to let the speaker finish talking before asking any questions.

Summarize What You Hear

Reflecting on what the listener is saying is also a positive verbal active listening technique. By repeating, paraphrasing or even summarizing what the speaker has said shows that you are putting in effort to better understand them. Use phrases like; “what I’m hearing is…”or, “sounds like you’re saying….” These tactics can also allow the speaker to hear what they are saying, which may help them find positive reinforcement.

Look the Part

Keeping eye contact, maintaining good posture, and staying focused are key components of active listening and interpersonal communication. Being distracted and unfocused gives the speaker the impression that you aren’t paying attention. Focus on your loved one in need, and one day when you are in need of your friend, they will treat you the same.

When you actively listen to someone, you are letting them know that you care about what they are saying and can indicate that you are concerned for their health and safety, both mentally and physically. It’s important to take care of yourself when you are supporting someone through a difficult time as it may stir up difficult emotions. If it does, please reach out for support yourself and find an active listener of your own.