Words by Praise, 25 NSW

The moment you realise you have at least one person who is genuinely interested and wants to listen to your authentic desires, dreams, and stories – mark it as a blessing. 

Perhaps, not everyone around you will be able to do this.

”Listening is the most important thing you can do right now. We often hear we are all in this together, but it is vital we actually let people know this with our actions” – Megan Barrow, community ambassador of ‘R U OK?’

Our response to ‘R U OK?’ from someone close to us versus an acquaintance will differ. I take a lot of time to open up. And so, I am careful about who I attract and keep within my inner circle of friends. 

Only when I truly feel a person is trustworthy will I share my innermost feelings. Before I decide to trust someone, I try to notice their listening patterns and the intention behind their willingness to listen. These two factors help me to identify the close friends in my life. 

Some want to air opinions or offer pieces of advice without actually engaging in active listening. Others may try to sound relatable by interrupting with similar stories from their own life. Not only does this discourage one from sharing from their heart, but it doesn’t help achieve active listening either.

“We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know” – Carl R Rogers. 

This R U OK day – ask yourself whether you engage in active listening with understanding and empathy. These tips have helped me to open up to others in my life: 

  • Listen curiously in order to understand and acknowledge the person instead of judging them.
  • Give your full attention to the other person while listening. This will help you let the individual set a pace that is right for them. For instance, some people like to talk fast but others may need time to share how they feel. Respect both. If moments of silence occur, do not rush or interrupt. 
  • Listen to their tone of voice and be aware of non-verbal cues like body language, or facial expressions. Ask relevant follow-up questions, at the appropriate time – without interrupting them. 
  • Ensure that your digital devices do not interrupt or re-direct your attention during the conversation.
  • Paraphrase what you’ve heard in your own words. It will make them feel heard and understood. This can also help to clarify any misinterpretations. 

Today I remember the encouraging words of Maya Angelou:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better”.

Let us care enough to meaningfully connect with our mates when they need us most. Feeling truly heard can strengthen our sense of belonging not just on R U OK? day – a national day of action to protect our communities in Australia from suicide – but every day of the year.

Illustration by AileenYou can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenetc

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