In our daily lives we continually communicate – to our family, friends, co-workers, and within the communities where we live. Yet in our daily communications, do we listen? That is, are we really paying attention to what someone has to say? This is especially important when an individual who is experiencing a mental health challenge is struggling to communicate.
Listening is a skill. How we listen can have a huge impact in our communication process.
Rule number one – look genuinely interested in what the individual has to say. If we are not looking at them because we are on our smart phones or checking out what else is going on in the environment around us, the individual attempting to tell you their story quickly receives the impression that what they are trying to say is not important. So put down the smart phone for a few minutes and provide the individual with eye contact.
Rule number two – use body language that is engaging. Our facial expressions and body postures provide strong messages of non-verbal communication. If we our body is facing or turned away from the individual they may feel that you are trying to get away from the conversation as quickly as you can. Face the individual, and pay attention to your own facial expressions to ensure that they are accepting and engaging. If you are not sure what this looks like, practice in a mirror!
Rule number three – be open to what the individual is telling you. So often we quickly formulate an opinion or judgment of the individual based on only a small portion of the story/information. These judgments not only quickly bias our further receiving of the information, but also influence our body language and non-verbal communication. So be patient and just listen to what the individual has to say with an open mind.
Don't worry, in the few minutes that it takes to listen to the individual, the information on our smart phone will still be there and I am certain that you will still catch what is going on in your immediate surroundings!