Hearing someone talk is different from actively listening to what that person is saying. Active listening requires concentration and understanding. Improving your listening skills is easy to do with practice and these helpful tips.
Acknowledge the Speaker
This can be as simple as a head nod or an “Uh huh.” By acknowledging the speaker, you are letting them know that you are listening to what they have to say and reminding yourself to pay attention to what is being said to you.
Asking questions or making statements may help clarify what the speaker is saying. It reminds the speaker that you are listening attentively and that you are here to help them and are truly concerned. Be sure to let the speaker finish talking before asking any questions.
Summarize What You Hear
Reflecting on what the listener is saying is also a positive verbal active listening technique. By repeating, paraphrasing or even summarizing what the speaker has said shows that you are putting in effort to better understand them. Use phrases like; “what I’m hearing is…”or, “sounds like you’re saying….” These tactics can also allow the speaker to hear what they are saying, which may help them find positive reinforcement.
Look the Part
Keeping eye contact, maintaining good posture, and staying focused are key components of active listening and interpersonal communication. Being distracted and unfocused gives the speaker the impression that you aren’t paying attention.
When you actively listen to someone, you are letting them know that you care about what they are saying and can indicate that you are concerned for their health and safety.
Suicide Safety on Social Media
If someone online is posting about wanting to die or kill themselves, feeling hopeless, trapped, like a burden to others, or seeking revenge, you can encourage them to call the Lifeline. You can also contact social media safety teams, who will reach out to connect the user with the help they need. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) at any time for help if a friend is struggling.
Use the Five Action Steps
*ASK-communicate that you’re open to speaking about suicide in a non-judgmental and supportive way. Be direct and unbiased-it can open the door for effective dialogue about their emotional pain. Other questions you can ask include, “How do you hurt?” and “How can I help?” Do not ever promise to keep their thoughts of suicide a secret. Listen- Help them focus on their reasons for living and avoid trying to impose your reasons for them to stay alive.
*KEEP THEM SAFE- reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal means (or chosen method for a suicide attempt) is an important part of suicide prevention. Your support will put time and distance between the person and their chosen method, especially methods that have shown higher lethality (like firearms and medications).
*BE THERE-being there for someone with thoughts of suicide is life-saving (physically present, speaking with them)-follow through with your support. Connectedness acts as a buffer against hopelessness and psychological pain.
*HELP THEM CONNECT-connect person with ongoing supports (like the Lifeline, 800-273-8255, counseling) can help them establish a safety net when they find themselves in a crisis. Work with them to develop a safety plan-ways to identify when they start to experience thoughts of suicide, what to do in those crisis moments, and a list of individuals to contact when a crisis occurs. Those who called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline were significantly more likely to feel less depressed
*FOLLOW UP-Make sure to follow-up with them to see how they’re doing-leave a message, send a text, or give them a call. Check in with them to see if there is more you are capable of helping with or if there are things you’ve said you would do and haven’t yet had the chance to get done.
A real way to make a difference in the words of those who have contemplated suicide:
“Simply trying to understand and acknowledging the feeling is so important. Then, and only then, can you talk about a way out, a light at the end of the tunnel, the value of living and how to get help.”