Friends often know the most about whatever’s going on in our lives – from the hilarious/mortifying/scandalous events of the night before to the more serious stuff, like what’s getting us down.
If one of your friends is going through a tough time, you can help just by being there to listen.
Tips for active listening
Let them talk – Giving your friend the chance to talk can help them get stuff off their chest and manage how they’re feeling. Sometimes if you’ve had a similar experience, it can be tempting to tell them your own story. This mightn’t be the right time to do that. It might be better just to let them talk and tell them about your own experiences later on.
Don’t judge – Try and be as supportive as possible towards your friend. Keep a really open-mind and help them figure out the best solution to their problem.
Use open-ended questions – Open-ended question, like the name suggests, let people open up a bit more. They often start with “how” or “what”. For example “How do you feel about …?” can open people up more than “Do you feel like…?” What you’re then doing is letting them get whatever’s bothering them out in the open and figure it out. Another good way to approach this is to ask “Can you tell me about…?”
Let them know you’re listening – Show you’re listening – it lets them know you care. There are a few ways of doing this: ask questions to get a better understanding of what they’ve been talking about say what you think, feel or sense about what they’ve said repeat back in your own words what they’ve been saying.
Body language – Open body language can make someone feel more comfortable speaking to you about what’s worrying them. Try and keep eye contact with the person you’re speaking with. Try not to look over their shoulder.
Sit with your arms by your side or in your lap rather than crossed and stretch out rather than being squished up in a chair. Think about the cultural background that your friend comes from – this can change what’s considered to be warm and friendly body language.
Be supportive – Reassure your friend that their feelings are OK and that there’ll be a way through whatever’s going on.
Things to avoid
There are certain things that can make the other person feel like we are not listening, such as words like…
“Why?” – Be careful about when and how you use, “why?” If you do, be more specific about what it is you’d like to know. When we ask too many “why?” questions, the other person may feel challenged and become defensive.
“Don’t worry about it…” – If we tell someone not to worry about it, there’s a chance they may feel you’re not listening to their concerns. If they’re worried about something, try to understand why they would feel that way, and offer alternative perspectives.
Avoid giving advice – Advice is a tricky thing. If you’ve been through something similar, it can be helpful to let them know what worked for you, but everyone’s different. They might need to find a different way of dealing with what’s happening. Let them know your opinion is just an opinion. They shouldn’t feel they have to agree.
Don’t interrupt – Remember, it’s important to let them talk. Sometimes just talking about your problems and having someone there to listen can make you feel better already. Try to let them finish what they want to say before you respond.
It’s important to mind your own mental health. Sometimes it can be hard to help a friend who is going through a tough time but you don’t need to do this all on your own. There are plenty of people out there to help you.
It’s OK to confide in your own trusted friends and family or find a little extra support for your friend if what they’re going through is a bit much for you to handle.
Sometimes when we’re going through a tough time we may need a little extra support from a professional. Your friend might find it helpful to talk with someone like a counsellor, psychologist or GP.
You can help them find someone to talk to. Offer to go to with them, if that would make them feel more comfortable.