By Mike Stroh, guest author and Director, Starts With Me Inc.
It’s exciting to see the growth in awareness and discussions around mental health and well-being. Now that people are talking and sharing their experience, it seems we’re ready to take the next steps towards greater understanding and compassion in regards to mental health discourse.
The next step is “let’s listen”. How often do we truly listen attentively and compassionately to those sharing their mental health struggles and successes?
I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.
I believe we can improve our capacity for listening, to strengthen and propel our progress in mental health communications.
Here are the most common barriers to listening. I know I can relate to many of them. Which ones are typical for you?
Comparing – You can’t let much in because you’re too busy seeing if you measure up.
Mind Reading – You’re trying to figure out what the other person is thinking and feeling, instead of listening.
Rehearsing – You don’t have time to listen or pay attention to listening when you’re rehearsing what to say.
Filtering – When you filter, you listen to some things and not to others. You hear what you want to hear, and avoid what you don’t want to hear and let your mind wander.
Judging – Negative labels have enormous power. If you prejudge someone as stupid, nuts, or unqualified, you don’t pay much attention to what they say.
Being Right – Being right means you will go to any lengths (twist the facts, start shouting, make excuses or accusations, call up past sins) to avoid being wrong.
Dreaming – You’re half listening, and something the person says suddenly triggers a chain or private associations in your mind.
Identifying – you take everything a person tells you and refer it back to your experience. You launch into your story before they can finish theirs.
Advising – You don’t have to hear more than a few sentences before you begin searching for the right advice.
Sparring – You argue and debate with people. The other person never feels heard because you’re so quick to disagree.
Derailing – You constantly change the subject when you’re bored or uncomfortable with the discussion.
Placating – You want to be nice, pleasant, and supportive. You want people to like you. So you agree with everything.
I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening
In the mental health world of let’s talk, I’d argue it’s more important to listen.
If we don’t have the skills for effective listening, we prevent many opportunities for people to be vulnerable, to share and open up. Let's focus on listening, and identifying at least one of these blocks to listening that we currently have.
Can we contemplate how a change in our collective listening skills will revolutionize our ability to communicate and deepen our mutual compassion and well-being?
Let’s give our sincere effort to listening and enjoy the process.
One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say
Bryan H. McGill
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
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