Everyone wants to be heard and listened to, especially when one feels isolated or experiencing mental health issues. Since the pandemic began, there has been an increase in mental health issues and finding affordable mental health can be difficult (pandemic or not). Being able to give someone an opportunity to open up and talk can be a small step to supporting someone’s mental health. Listening is also not limited to loved ones. Whether you are talking to a close friend or a potential creative collaborator, listening skills are useful and transferable.
I started my journey as an Active Listener about three years ago. The role of the Active Listener is to provide on-call peer-to-peer support during events. Being available to someone by listening to them is a bigger job than one would think. It takes great skill and energy to maintain presence and attention while listening. As an Active Listener, I have supported arts festivals, organizations, events, writing workshops and film festivals. This has helped me develop my listening skills and practice of taking care of myself. Before each shift, I have a set of practices to make sure that I can be present and prepared to listen.
Being a listener is a generous act that requires energy. Here are some tips before you start lending your ears:
Take care of yourself
Have you taken care of your:
Physical body: Have you eaten? Are you hydrated and well rested?
Emotional well-being: Are you in the right mind space to listen to others?
Not all conversations will end with a positive solution. Be gentle with yourself. You are human and may not always listen as intently as you would like.
Make sure you do something for yourself. Supporting the supporter is important. As you transition from listening to others, moving your body like going for a walk or taking a shower will help you adjust from giving to others to supporting yourself.
When listening to others, do your best to:
This time is about them, not you.
How you approach listening may vary because everyone’s needs and situations are different. Be open to adjusting as needed.
Let the individual know you are listening by repeating what they said back to them in your own words. But do it naturally, you’re not a parrot.
Don’t solve a problem
Unless the individual has asked, it is not your job to offer any solutions. Sometimes people just want to talk out their ideas or thoughts and don’t want you to help them solve anything.
Sometimes the conversation requires more support that you may not be able to provide. Below are a few resources to help. As a listener you can help relay information if the speaker doesn’t want to retell their share.
Progress Place Warm Line
Crisis Services Canada
LGBTQ Youth Line
Bean Bag Chat
Being there for someone, even if you are just there in silence, may be all the person needs. Allowing them to share safely to express themselves is the key to this shared listening space. Your intentional listening is a way to show you care. Do your best and remember, this is an ongoing skill. Take care of yourself as you support others.