Learning to Listen

It is human nature, when we listen to others sharing their difficulties, to want to come up with a solution or a response for them. This means when we listen, actually we're just waiting until it is our turn to speak. For someone going through a mental health difficulty who has decided to open up, this can be unhelpful or counterproductive, even if your intentions are good. So, it is important that we learn to actively listen.

Active listening is a holistic approach to listening, when you use all of your senses. It involves concentrating fully on what is being said rather than just hearing the speaker in a passive way.

Active listening can be counterintuitive, and is a skill that needs to be developed.

Test Your Active Listening Skills

Try an exercise with a partner to consider where your active listening skills are right now. 

1) Start by allocating roles to each of you. One is the 'speaker' and the other is the 'listener'

2) The speaker must speak for 3 minutes (use a timer for precision) about a broad topic such as their favourite film, or favourite book

3) The listener must not respond in any verbal way. They can only prompt the speaker through body language, facial expression, and eye contact

What you may find is that as a speaker it can be initially difficult to direct your conversation when it is one sided and you receive no verbal response from your partner. However, you will also find that you had more control over what you wanted to share or divulge.

As a listener, it may have been difficult not to reply to certain phrases, and perhaps your mind was preoccupied with thinking how you would respond if you could respond.

Develop Your Active Listening Skills

Access the Samaritans


The Samaritans have produced a free e-learning called 'Wellbeing in the Workplace'. Although originally created for offices, the training focuses around active listening skills.

The training is easy to access, and does not need to be completed in one sitting so can be revisited if you have a busy schedule.

Access the training here.

Read More

Learn more about what active listening is, and why it is important in the context of supporting the mental health of those around us by tapping into a wealth of articles and blogs available online. A few suggested starting points below:

- Active Listening Guide by MindTools

- Active Listening Factsheet

- 13 Steps to Better Active Listening Skills

Active Listening: The Art of Empathetic Conversation


As they say, practice makes perfect. Whether you do this through repetition of the above mentioned exercise, or by endeavouring to employ active listening in your day to day conversations, eventually the skills will become habitual.

Please note, this information is not intended to encourage people to self-diagnose. Please seek help from a medical professional if you feel that you need support with your mental health.

If you need urgent mental health support please contact Samaritans on 116 123. If your life is in danger, call 999 for an ambulance or go straight to A&E. There is no shame in asking for help.