World Mental Health Day Blog: Active listening

At Socitm Advisory, we are dedicated to the wellbeing of our employees, especially their mental health. As this Saturday, 10th October, marks the 2020 World Mental Health Day, in the days leading up to this we will be sharing a series of blogs written by members of our team with the theme of "Listen".


Active listening


Have you ever "listened" to someone, only to realise you were planning your response the entire time?


Here is a list of the most common mistakes we make when listening to other people:

Daydreaming or thinking of something else (even something as simple as your list of groceries) while another person is speaking

Thinking of what to say next

Judging what the other person is saying

Listening with a specific goal/outcome in mind


These mistakes are simply signs that we are not hearing what another person is saying. Without active listening, it is difficult to explore a person's actual feelings and thoughts, and by doing so, have an engaging conversation where people feel respected - because you listened.


The following tips explore how you can start to listen actively and encourage people to feel safe, respected and willing to open up when they talk to you.


Listening wheel


Samaritans' Listening Wheel offers a range of techniques. Use these techniques flexibly and don't underestimate the power of silence - sometimes just being there is enough.


Reacting - conveying empathy in the way you respond.


Open questions - expand the conversation by asking open questions. Giving someone space to talk encourages them to say what is really important.


Summarising - when you find out something about the person, feed it back using their words. It shows you are listening and have understood the situation.


Reflecting - repeat back a key word or phrase of what has been said to encourage them to expand some more.


Clarifying - it is easy to miss out important details when you are in distress. Ask questions to clarify the situation for both you and them.


Encouragement - when someone is talking, they often need encouragement to continue sharing. Add in little words like "yes", "I see" or "hmmm" to keep them going.


Silence - never underestimate the power of silence. Sometimes not filling the silence in simply the best option.


Using these 7 techniques helps you become a better listener. Active listening isn't always easy, but it can make a big difference.


Things to be mindful of...


Offering solutions

Many of us are used to solving issues in our work or home lives, but this is not part of active listening. If you're busy thinking about the best course of action, you're not fully listening to the other person.


When listening to someone's story, try not to suggest any solutions or ways forward. It is more empowering to ask how they think they can improve their situation and discuss what options they think they have.

Sharing personal experiences

If the situation you're being told about is familiar to you, it's very tempting to share your experiences.


While it can be useful in some situations, make sure that you don't turn the conversation around to be about you rather than the person who's opening up. You're not the focus of this conversation. You can politely say you've had similar experiences if asked, but then follow it up with a question directed towards the other person.

Being judgemental

If the person you're talking to reveals something about themselves that you disapprove of or disagree with, don’t judge them. It's important to stay calm and accept the person for who they are.


Your aim is to make the person feel comfortable to tell you more – not to shut them down or switch the focus to your own beliefs.


Be aware of your facial expressions and body language. These can sometimes show your feelings even if you don't say anything.

Cheering people up 

When you see someone who looks upset, you might want to cheer them up. But you're not there to make everything better. Instead, help them to help themselves by giving them space to talk things through.

Samaritans have a free Wellbeing in Workplace module on Active Listening that expands on these tips with activities that allow you to practice your new listening skills. I would encourage everyone to take this course to understand how you can practice active listening when speaking to your colleagues. It is a free module and will only take round 20 minutes to complete.

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