Phillip Job

Monday 15 Jan 2018: Listening

I’ve decided to try and keep an ad-hoc blog, just somewhere to express some thoughts, explore ideas and probably complain about issues that I care about. It won’t be regular and I won’t promise it will be well written, but let’s see how it goes.

Today is “Blue Monday” (supposedly the most depressing day of the year). To try and make a positive out of that negative the Samaritans launched a campaign to try and rebrand the day as “Brew Monday”: encouraging people to get together with friends or family and have a chat to find out how they are feeling. Anyone who knows me will almost certainly be aware of my connection to Samaritans, and that I am passionate about getting people to listen to each other better than we generally do. So today seems like a good day to write a little bit about what good listening is to me.

In conversation, very often when someone is telling us about their problems, even before they have finished, we begin to think up possible solutions for them, think how we would handle the situation ourselves, or how we have handled it when something similar has happened to us. But as soon as we start to do that we have stopped listening, we instead begin to wait to talk. And when we do that the conversation switches from being about them to being about us. About our experience, our solutions, our help.

I’m sure it has happened to you when you have been talking to someone — part way through you see they are no longer really paying attention and are instead waiting to talk. And at that moment, doesn’t it feel terrible? But when you really listen to someone, not only do they feel validated, it is an incredible privilege to be given their stories and rewarding to have helped them unpack their troubles.

Listening is not easy, it is something that requires your full concentration and the engagement of all our faculties. It is also an attitude, a way of being, something that happens inside as well as coming from the outside.

It is an active process. Your mind has to be open and taking in what is said. You need to provide audio and visual clues to the speaker, that you are paying attention, but not do so in such a way as to interrupt their flow. You can talk, but only to ask questions that help the speaker, open ones, clarifying ones. You may reflect back what they have said and summarise in your own words. You can use silence — lots of silence. You must not judge your speaker or begin to talk about your own views or solutions. If you do the conversation is no longer about them, and their confidence in you will be lost.

Finally, listening is an act of compassion, an act of caring, and an act of love.

Please have a look at my project First Duty to learn more about how Samaritans listen.