Time to talk and time to listen

It’s Time to Talk day and we’re looking forward to a time when we can say we’re struggling with a bout of depression as easily as we say we are suffering with a cold.

Here at Fresh Air Fridays we believe in sharing simple tools that support mental wellbeing with as many people as possible. One of these, as obvious as it sounds, is the ability to really listen, a practice that we develop and practice on every session.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and got suddenly excited because they’ve said something and you’re desperate to tell them how that happened to you or someone you know? Or how you know exactly how they feel? Or maybe you’re listening to someone you really want to support and have a lot of advice you want to share with them. Or that conversation when you’re just waiting for the other person to pause so you can respond, having spent your energy thinking about what you want to say.

As a coach I often find that insight comes in the moments of silence – that these times are often much more powerful than any question I could ask. The skill of listening, really listening is a gift that few of us give or receive. I believe many of us fear silence in conversation and seek to fill it.

My invitation to you on this Time to Talk day is to talk, but also to listen. If you’re the person who needs to talk, it might be helpful to guide the other person. You might ask them to say nothing and just listen to you, without judgement or opinion.

If you’re the person listening, I invite you not to give an opinion, compare it to something that happened to someone you know or tell them you know how they feel. Try saying absolutely nothing. If you really must say something just repeat what you’ve heard. For example, “you’re feeling like a dark cloud is hanging over you and you don’t know how to breathe?” It might feel odd to you, but it won’t sound it to the other person. It’s OK to have silence – you don’t need to fill it.

If you want to help in some way, after leaving plenty of space for the person to say as much as they want, you could ask them what they need right now. Don’t make it about you by using phrases such as: “What can I do for you?” because that can create a further burden for the person you are trying to support. Very often, the person needs nothing except the opportunity to say things out loud to someone who will simply shut up and listen!

written by

Ruth Steggles