But on Bell Let’s Talk Day 2019, which takes place on Wednesday, it’s important to also listen, says Dr. Heather Fulton, a registered psychologist at the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction.
“Let’s Talk is really important for reducing stigma and talking about mental illness,” said Fulton. “Part of that is, let’s listen to what people have to say.”
“Listening is really important because it communicates to that other person that their responses, feelings, thoughts and actions make sense and they’re understandable,” she said. “It’s not necessarily agreeing with them or you conveying that you like what they’re saying, but that you get them, you understand them and it helps that relationship.
“It can be one of the most powerful things that we do with someone.”
While many people think they’re good at listening, “perhaps they’re not actually as good as they think they are,” Fulton said.
Common pitfalls include the compulsion to dole out advice, “but feeling truly listened to and understood can be much more helpful than any advice or suggestions that we offer,” she said.
Another pitfall is depending on platitudes like “it happened for a reason” and “it made them a better person.”
“Often when we say those phrases, we say them because we feel uncomfortable, we don’t know how to help and we want them to feel better as fast as possible,” Fulton said. “But they rarely have that intended effect of helping the other person, and often they actually make a person feel worse.”
Instead, Fulton suggested practicing active listening by concentrating on what the other person is saying, and using nonverbal cues such as eye contact and nodding your head.
Further, stating feelings descriptively like “you felt ignored” and showing tolerance by trying to understand the person’s emotions and reactions based on their life circumstances are tested and true listening techniques.
“With listening… just listen. Be present,” Fulton said. “You don’t have to fix things, nor are you really able to. Just ask them how you can help anyways.
“Sometimes it might just be sitting and listening to them, bearing witness to some of their experience. Showing them that you’re not uncomfortable with them or their emotions can be really validating.”