The importance of listening

It seems strange to be focussing on the importance of listening when discussing ‘Time to talk’ day, February 6th 2020, however, while it’s important to get people talking about mental health issues, to help break down the stigma.  People also need to listen.

Listening, and by that, we mean really listening and paying attention, is something that we often struggle to do.  Think of the conversations you have during the day, how many of those do you give your full undivided attention.  Ones where you aren’t mentally going through your to-do list in your head, half watching TV or listening to the radio, or where you’re waiting for the person to finish talking so you can then give your point of view/opinion on the matter. I can imagine it’s not many.

“All of us want to be listened to, all of us want to really be heard. When someone senses you are really listening to what they have to say amazing things can happen. Solutions can be found that were never imagined. Understanding can be reached that had seemed impossible. Old angers and resentments can be overcome. Frustrations can simply fall away.”


If we want people to open up about mental health issues, then there need to be willing and attentive listeners available.  I’ve been reading a number of articles written by those suffering from mental health about the importance of listening.  They all agree that talking about issues is a very cathartic experience, but that it’s very clear to them, whether people are actively listening or just being polite. This quote sums it up perfectly.

“Before you ask somebody (who you know struggles with depression) how they are — make sure you really want to know the answer and really want to know how they are because you genuinely care. I believe there is nothing worse than telling somebody how you feel with total honesty (which takes a lot of courage in the first place), only to be met with an inactive listener whose body language and verbal actions are completely incoherent.”


What can you do to make yourself a better listener?

Listen to learn and not to be polite

As was mentioned above.  Listen because you’re interested in the answer and want to learn something, not just because you feel you have to.

Pay attention

Give them your full attention, don’t be writing your shopping list in your head, looking at your phone.  Stop what you are doing, move away from any distractions if needs be.  Give them your time and full attention.

Ask questions

If listening is learning, the best way to learn more is to ask questions.

Pay attention to how much you’re talking

If you want someone to open up and talk about any problems or issues they may be having.  Make sure you’re letting them speak, they should be the one talking, not you.  Try not to dominate the conversation, don’t be afraid of silences.  These are pauses for thought, not gaps that need to be filled with noise.

Repeat back

It is easy to misunderstand or misinterpret what somebody is saying. By repeating back when you’ve understood helps to reduce any ambiguity. They’ll either agree that, yes, that is what they intended to say.  If not, then they’ll need to find a different way of explaining.

Don’t interrupt

Wait for somebody to finish talking before you even start thinking about your reply. If you begin concocting it in your head when they’re only halfway through their sentence. You’re going to miss half of what is said. As I said in point 4, a little silence or gap in conversation isn’t a bad thing.  It gives everyone time to think and digest what has been said.

If you would like to make mental health in the workplace a topic of conversation, there are many ways you can help promote the ideas covered in the Time to Talk campaign.  There is a wealth of resources and ideas on how you, as an employer, can implement it into your organisation.

For us, we’re going to do the very English thing of putting the kettle on, sitting down and having a chat about what is bothering us and where we need help.  It doesn’t need to be complicated, sometimes the little things can make the biggest difference.

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