If Someone Opens Up To You, Listening Is Key

There’s no denying that Bell started a well worthy initiative with the “Bell Let’s Talk” day. Every year, Bell encourages the general population, whether it’s their current clients or not, to promote the importance of mental health. And when we do so, they donate money towards mental health initiatives. Too many suffer in silence, in a very dark place, and put up a front to make you think that everything is okay. Well it’s NOT okay. They’re not okay. They must open up and talk to someone, anyone they choose, and let their dark thoughts out. Doing so is not weakness folks. It’s one of the hardest things to do. So when they finally gather the courage to talk, do we know how to listen?

So by all means, please use the means provided by Bell for their initiative. Let’s raise money for this. Yes, it’s also huge publicity for them but hey, they’re also doing a good thing here. The publicity cutting your Youtube the videos you’re watching do nothing but annoy you. This one is worthy.

The art of listening

Getting people to open up about mental issues is difficult. It takes tons of courage and they might do it only once. You could very well be the only person they’ll tell and the onus is on you to handle it properly. If they want to talk, let them. Find a proper place, away from other ears and encourage them to tell you what’s troubling them. Stop what you’re doing. Put your phone away. Give them your undivided attention because you will be the voice of reason at the end. If they open up to you, it’s you that they trust.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
― Stephen R. Covey

The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’. Listening also means just that. Focus on what they’re saying and don’t think of something to say while they’re talking. Soak it all in. Truly listen as they’re telling you something very important. Act as if listening to every word was a matter of life and death… as it could be. You don’t know yet. Remember the old adage that you cannot be truly listening if your lips are moving.

Open-ended questions

If you’re going to say anything, ensure they’re done on the topic they’re talking about. If you’re going to say something, form it in a way of a question. Not a “yes” or “no” type question. Use open-ended questions. What’s that? Basically, instead of a closed question leading to yes or no answers, formulate your questions with words which will get them to open up and tell you more. Use words such as:

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
  • How

Then LISTEN. Let them tell you THEIR story. They reached out because they have something important to tell you. Let them do that. If you cut them off or if they feel like you’re not truly listening, they could shut down and they might never be willing or able to gather the strength again. The next day, you’ll ask them how they’re doing and they’ll return to putting up a front: “Oh much better, thank you.” But it might not be the case. This is THE time.

Resist fixing, help guide

Unless it’s your profession, don’t play psychologist or psychiatrist because you’re not. Studying it in school doesn’t make you an expert. Be careful with the advice. Don’t compare others’ situation (including your own). Every situation and feelings are different from person to person, even if they may seem similar on the surface. What worked for you may not work for them, as their life experience is different than yours. Instead, point them in the direction of the help that they desperately need. Let a professional dig and give advices. Get them to call while you’re with them, now or later. But do it with them.

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” ~ Brené Brown

Last but not least, show empathy instead of sympathy. “We’ll get though this together. I’m there for you and I’ll help you get through this. I’m right by your side and I love (or care about) you.” Brené Brown, whom I’ve quoted earlier on, created this very, very powerful video about the difference between sympathy and empathy. Take the time to watch it. You’ll need it.

Learning to listen is a skill that you have to work on. It’s something hard to do as we’re wired to try to compare or find solutions. Our natural instinct is to try to fix whatever they’re telling us. Resist that temptation. In this day and age of technology, we think tend to think that we know more than we truly do. Let’s not play experts as in this case, it could be their life that’s on the line.

In your everyday life

Listening is a skill that can be applied to people opening up on mental health yes, but it’s so much more. You can apply the same principles to your spouse, your parents, your kids, your friends. If you’re in business, you can apply it with clients or customers, with your boss or your employees. Not all about mental health. You will be an even better person if you can manage to improve on your listening skills. In the meantime for today, listen and… #BellLetsTalk.

Mental Health: A Personal Experience

2 thoughts on “If Someone Opens Up To You, Listening Is Key

  1. Great article JD. I’m in the biz and the only think I would add is that listening IS doing something/fixing it. I was told a story when I first started. A man is sitting in a hole that’s full of shit. People come by, try to talk to him out, drop a rope ladder down, but still he sits in the shit. Another man comes by, climbs down the rope ladder and sits with him. They sit like that for days and everyone wonders. One day, the original man gets up and climbs up the rope ladder and thanks the man who helped. The others are dumbfounded. “But I put the rope ladder down?” “Yes you did, and thanks. But I couldn’t have used it if it were not for the man who sat with me in the shit.”

    1. Thank you Sam and you raise a good point. What I meant is if, for one reason or another, it’s impossible to do something immediately, to follow up and do it at first chance. It also goes without saying that if the person is suicidal, nothing comes ahead of that. If you have them on the phone, keep them talking to you and reach out for help, even someone sending the cops if you feel it’s very serious.

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