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‘SHUSH’ – active listening tips

SHUSH stands for:

  • Show you care
  • Have patience
  • Use open questions
  • Say it back
  • Have courage

This video on Samaritans ‘SHUSH’ includes tips to help you with the conversation​.

Show you care:

  • Focus on the other person, make eye contact, put away your phone.
  • To really listen to somebody, you need to give them your full attention, maintain eye contact and be engaged.
  • Getting into this habit takes practice so don’t be too hard on yourself and keep using these handy tips:
  • When starting the conversation resolve not to talk about yourself at all.
  • Keep a listening diary – just for a week. Record how many times you listened really well, note what challenges and distracts you and what you think went well.
  • Aim to learn at least one new thing about the person who is talking to you.

Have patience:

  • It may take time and several attempts before a person is ready to open up.
  • Effective listening is about creating trust with the other person. The person sharing shouldn’t feel rushed, or they won’t feel it’s a safe environment.
  • If they’ve paused in their response, wait, they may not have finished speaking. It might take them some time to formulate what they are saying, or they may find it difficult to articulate what they’re feeling.
  • Through non-judgemental listening, you are allowing the person to relax into the conversation and to use it as a place to reflect or work through difficult emotions.
  • Try asking, ‘how are you feeling today’? And don’t be afraid to dig a little deeper when someone’s words don’t match how they are acting. 
  • ‘Are you sure?’ can be a powerful question. 
  • Everyone has at some point in their life said “I’m fine” “can’t complain” “not bad” or “alright” when asked how they are, when in reality they were angry, sad, frustrated, anxious, or any combination of emotions other than “fine.” 
  • “I’m fine” rarely means “everything is perfectly adequate, and I have absolutely no complaints.” So that little extra “Are you sure?” can really go a long way in reassuring that person that you are actually there for them to talk to and you aren’t just asking out of politeness. This isn’t water-cooler chat. This is someone taking a genuine interest in the mental health state of someone they care about. 
  • A well placed “are you sure?” can be the sign someone needs that it is ok to be honest. 

Use open questions:

  • Use open questions that need more than a yes/no answer, and follow up with questions like ‘Tell me more’.
  • An open-ended question means not jumping in with your own ideas about how the other person may be feeling.
  • These questions don’t impose a viewpoint and require a person to pause, think and reflect, and then hopefully expand.
  • Avoid asking questions or saying something that closes down the conversation. Open-ended questions encourage them to talk, the conversation is a safe space that you are holding for them and nothing they say is right or wrong. 
  • When – “When did you realise you felt this way?”
  • Where – “Where do you go when you start to feel anxious?”
  • What – “What else happened?”
  • How – “How did that feel?”
  • Why – be careful with this one as it can make someone defensive. “What made you choose that?” or “What were you thinking at the time?” is more effective. 

Say it back:

  • Check you’ve understood, but don’t interrupt or offer a solution. In everyday life, it’s easy to offer little bits of guidance and advice here and there without much thought. But with the really important or difficult decisions, telling someone what to do can be really unhelpful. The best support you can provide is helping them talk through the problems they are facing so that they can decide what’s best for them.
  • Repeating something back to somebody is a really good way to reassure them that they have your undivided attention. And you can check to see that you’re hearing what they want you to hear, not putting your own interpretation onto the conversation. 
  • Try asking clarifying questions like:
  • When you say…do you mean…?
  • Tell me more about…?
  • What do you really mean by that?
  • It sounds like…is that how you feel?

Have courage:

  • Don’t be put off by a negative response and, most importantly, don’t feel you have to fill a silence.
  • Sometimes it can feel intrusive and counter-intuitive to ask someone how they feel. You’ll soon be able to tell if someone is uncomfortable and doesn’t want to engage with you at that level.
  • You’ll be surprised at how willing people are to listen and how, sometimes, it is exactly what somebody needs to be able to share what is going on their mind.
  • “Once a person pauses I count to three in my head. This gives them time to elaborate further if they need to. It also shows you are thinking about what they are saying which will hopefully give them the confidence to keep talking.” Samaritans volunteer

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