Do you often play the role of an advisor or a counselor to a loved one or a colleague?
Do people reach out just to talk, or share their troubles in a conversation with you? Many of us play the role of a supportive listener to a friend or co-worker in a conversation that's important for their mental well-being. I am not a therapist, but years of working in the wellness industry, and being a sensitive human :), I have had some experience in this area.
I am sharing some helpful tips for you to support a loved one through such a conversation. These are especially powerful when they are seeking your help to sort something out, or be a sounding board.
8 tips to have an empathic mental health conversation
1. Put your phone away. If talking on the phone, close other apps.
Research has shown that when there's a phone on the table, even face down, people tend to keep their conversations superficial and cut them short. It's not rocket science but people can tell if you are distracted, even on the phone.
2. Listen without interrupting
Do you notice the hurry within you, or the urge to work harder to get someone's attention, when you feel they may interrupt you at anytime. Let your loved one know that you wont be interrupting them while they speak. How? By not interrupting them :)
3. Make eye contact
This is especially important if you are talking in person, or on a video call. Making eye contact with someone lets them know that you are interested in them, that they matter. It's one of the deepest ways to practice empathy.
4. Practice active listening
Nodding, saying 'uh huh', without interrupting, is another way to let the person know that you hear them. This is key when you are speaking to someone on the phone, when they can't see you. Facial expressions convey tremendous amounts of empathy & emotion. But when you don't have the advantage of being seen, saying things like 'uh-huh', 'I hear you', 'go on' can make a world of difference to the other person.
5. Before speaking, ask if they would like to express anything else
There may be a tendency to jump right into the 'perfect' solution at the earliest pause in the conversation, but instead of doing that, hold. Ask your loved one if there is anything else they want to say, and 9 times out of 10, there will be something else :).
6. Use non judgemental words such as 'express' instead of 'vent'
Be kind in your choice of words. Simple choices can make a difference. For eg. use 'I dont agree, but I can see how you feel...' instead of 'you're wrong'. Or 'I don't understand..' instead of 'you're being ridiculous' or 'unreasonable'.
7. End with gratitude, humor and warmth
The sign of a good company is that when people come to you with problems, they feel lighter after talking to you, and not worse :). End, the conversation by invoking gratitude, love and humor. Acknowledge the trust they placed in you by reaching out to you.
8. Take care of your own mental health
While it's wonderful that you can be there for others, you can only give from a full, not empty, cup. It's imperative that you take care of your mental health. You can do so through myriad of ways, most important of them being meditation. Come, meditate with me.
A note on boundaries:
There may be situations, where it may be useful to set some boundaries. For eg. if you have limited time, you could say beforehand, 'I would love to be there for you, but I have to go in 30 mins.' or, if they share many things, you may say, 'You mentioned so many things, shall we speak about one of them today?'. Or it may be that you don't feel up to a conversation, that day you could offer to listen but not share any input.
Boundaries help us be empathic and present for others while still maintaining our mental health and sanity. When you need to, use them. They avoid unnecessary hurt, pain and confusion for everyone.
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