During a session a client once said to me, “Our conversations are different”. “What do you mean?”, I asked. “Well you let me talk until I am done. And then you say what you have understood from my ramblings. And when you say it back to me I realise yes that is how I feel; that’s exactly it”, he replied.
I started this blog a while ago and have been encouraged to complete it by an interesting Twitter conversation that emerged this weekend with the hashtag #DearMentalHealthProfessionals. So much of what I read was about communication, and the impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing when they do and do not feel listened to.
When was the last time you really felt listened to?
Being a good listener is a skill and it can be hard work. It is not just hearing and understanding the words; it is seeking to understand the meaning behind those words and demonstrating that understanding in your responses. The world of business has recognised this important difference for many years and it is considered one of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People with the strapline Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.
One of the key roles for Mental Health professionals is listening to people, but what kind of listening do we do? Do we listen to understand or do we listen to respond? Is our objective to comprehend the person’s experience or to offer an appropriate solution? These things are not mutually exclusive, but in my experience the listener who takes an active role – seeking to understand and explore an issue – helps both parties to gain a deeper understanding and to find solutions together.