How to listen with kindness to someone seeking support
Last updated 27 January 2021
Some tips from our psychosocial support team on lending an ear to a person who is struggling
No one has been unaffected by the Covid-19 crisis. Whether your friends and loved ones are key workers trying to keep safe at work, are working from home, or have been furloughed, you have likely been called upon at some point to lend an understanding ear.
It can sometimes be difficult to know what to say. Our support line team are experts in this area. Open seven days a week, the support line is staffed by a team of people trained by our psychosocial support team, who are ready to help with a whole range of problems.
They have shared some advice on how to be there for a friend or loved one who is struggling with the current situation (or any difficult circumstance). Remember: while the virus keeps us apart, kindness will keep us together.
First, the three signs to look for in a person who needs help:
1. Changes in behaviour: based on their usual personality, are they quieter or louder than usual?
2. Withdrawal – we all need a break from Zoom calls from time to time, but if you’ve not heard from someone, be sure to check in with a phone call.
3. Irritability – they may seem to be focusing on something petty, but that could indicate a need to talk about something else.
Next, some tips on how you can help.
Make time to talk
Keep it casual, but make sure you can give the person your attention and really listen to what they have to say, or want to talk about.
Ask them how they are
And then ask them again. Sometimes someone hasn’t been asked in a while. Or they may give an offhand, light-hearted answer to try and deflect the question – so ask them again in a different way to let them know you’re not just being polite.
Read between the lines
Is there something they’re not mentioning? What hints are they giving? Notice body language if you’re on a video call with them, or listen carefully down the phone.
Don’t try to have all the answers
We don’t expect others to have all the answers when we seek help, and you likely won’t have all the answers either, but that doesn’t matter. Sometimes people just need to talk, and are often the source of their own solutions if they have time to discuss their thoughts and reflect on their situation or needs.
Don’t turn the conversation to you
Though this is a shared situation in many ways, this is time for them to talk. Use empathy to show you understand without turning talk back to your own situation.
Don’t avoid tricky topics
… if that’s what they need to talk about. It can be uncomfortable but give them the space to speak and acknowledge them, and let them know that you’re there to listen to their worries.
Remember that uncertainty is hard
We can all Google instant answers, but right now we’re all living with uncertainty. Acknowledge this, and also focus on the things they can control, and what they can do about them, rather than on the things they have no power over.
Find an upside
Even if it seems silly, or small, try to find a positive together. It’s also good to remind them that this too shall pass, and that this situation will not be forever.
Don’t worry about what you say: concentrate on really listening to and being there for the person you’re talking to. Even some easy conversation with a familiar voice might help them.
For more advice on easing stress and anxiety, take some time to look at our C.A.L.M.E.R. framework, also developed by our psychosocial support team, which can be passed on to others, or used for yourself
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