When people in our lives want to share something with us, especially when they’re looking for support, we may find ourselves feeling unsure what to say. We connected with youth peer support workers at Foundry centres as well as the FamilySmart Youth in Residence at the Kelty Centre to get some thoughts on how to have supportive conversations with those we care about.
Youth peer support workers are there to connect with young people who are accessing services. Read on below for some tips from them, based off of their personal experiences, on how to be a listening ear for people in our life:
- Give the person you’re talking to your full attention. Sometimes our brain will wander or hold on to a thought to ensure it is said later. Let these thoughts go. Be present and in the moment. When active listening, put away any distractions (like your phone or anything you may be holding), position your body in a way that is welcoming (eye contact, legs and arms uncrossed), and use a tone that meets their energy level.
- Encourage and validate them during the conversation. It can be difficult for someone to share what is going on for them. Saying something like “you’re doing great,” “I can only imagine what that must feel like,” or “thank you for sharing that” during the conversation can help them feel safe and understood and encourage them to continue sharing. If you are thinking of adding to the conversation, reflect on what you are about say and ask yourself “Is what I’m about to say necessary? Could what I’m about to say potentially take away from that person’s experience? Is what I’m thinking of saying validating their experience?”
- Be mindful of your body language. Body language is a powerful way to communicate to your peer that you’re listening. Orienting yourself towards them, making eye contact, and nodding when they speak are all ways to demonstrate you are listening and you care. If you are distracted or looking around or at the clock this may indicate to the speaker that they are not worth-while and what they are saying is not important. A good idea is to take a minute to collect yourself before seeing someone who wants to talk about a serious topic.
- Rather than waiting for the person to finish talking so you can speak, try to focus on the words you are hearing. If you are impatient with their process or way of communicating, it will be evident to them, and the speaker may become uncomfortable or feel it is unsafe to open up. Whether or not you agree with what they are saying or feeling, the experience is very real for them, and their feelings are worth validating. It’s important to remove your own opinions and to be an impartial presence. As an active listener, it is your role to make sure the speaker feels heard, valid, and understood.
- Don’t worry if you aren’t sure what to say. You don’t always need to have an answer or solution. Just listening and allowing someone to feel heard can make a big difference. If the person you’re talking to is struggling to find the right words, assure them that they can take their time and don’t be afraid to be silent for a bit while they think. If you give people the space they need to process their own thoughts, you will learn more about them and build a stronger relationship. If you are not sure what to say, it’s okay to say “I’m not sure what to say but thank you for sharing that with me. Is there anything I can do for you right now?” Sometimes people just want to be heard and sometimes there are concrete things that you can help someone with.
If the conversation is overwhelming, it’s important to take care if yourself first. You can always get support from someone you trust. You can also reach out to trained volunteers over phone or online chat if you aren’t sure who to talk to.
While listening to someone, it’s okay if you’re not comfortable at first with active listening – it’s is a skill that takes time and practice. Active listening is a part of understanding others and helping create a positive relationship with them.
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