How to Listen

As many of you know, I have been a Samaritan for a number of years. When I worked in Bournemouth, it kept Samaritans a bit of a secret. Since I returned to Tunbridge Wells and retrained, it feels only right to broadcast the importance of the Samaritans, whose mission statement is to try and reduce the number of suicides. “How to Listen”, written by Katie Colombus, has messages for all of us in our day-to-day life and I have attempted to pick out the key messages. If you want tools for opening up conversations when it matters most, I recommend you buy the book.

In your recent conversations, did the person you were talking to really listen?

  • Did the person give you their undivided attention?
  • Did they look directly at you, make eye contact and make you feel seen?
  • Did they let you speak, without interruption, not cutting in to offer advice, allowing you the freedom to express whatever it was you wanted to say 
  • Did they really make you feel heard?

Active listening is more than just hearing somebody

  • It involves really concentrating on what the other person is saying and carefully considering the points they are making, without interrupting or offering your own opinion
  • Lending an ear with empathy, without judgement or advice, can be the most effective means of helping the person you are talking to
  • Listening to others has an extraordinary ability to make them feel validated, give them back their self-belief and empower them to change the end of their story

If you really listen with the intent of understanding, rather than that of forming an opinion, or lining up a question in your head while the other person is still talking, you will generate a sense of trust that will allow the other person to really feel able to open up to you. Sometimes people just need you to be there for them.

I still fall into the trap of watching football or cricket on the television and not listening to my family and say, “what was that you were saying,” so none of us are perfect. Here is a quick summary of the Samaritans listening model which could work for you. Remember, Samaritans aren’t judgemental, don’t give advice and are effectively a listening service

  • Use open questions: How? What? Where? Who? (not Why! Why can come across as judgemental)
  • Summarise: A summary helps to show the individual that you have listened to and understood their circumstances and their feelings
  • Reflect: Repeating back a word or phrase encourages the individual to carry on and expand
  • Clarify: Sometimes an individual may gloss over an important point. By exploring these areas further, you can help them clarify these points for themselves
  • Use short words of encouragement. The person may need help to go on with their story – use words or phrases like “yes” or “go on” or “what else”
  • React: We need to show that we have understood the situation by reacting to it with validating phrases like “That sounds very difficult”

When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.

Dalai Lama

I am now a good listener, if you have anything you want to talk about as far as careers, retirement, leadership or business is concerned and you can reach me at

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