One of the questions frequently asked of FVPC advocates is “How do you make clients feel better?” or “What do you do to fix client’s situations?” It is a difficult to help people understand that our job as advocates is not to tell clients what to do or make their choices for them, but rather to support, listen and empower clients to make their own decisions and have faith in their own ability for creating positive change. We try do this by active listening.
Active listening functions as one of the most valuable tools each of us has, whether we work with clients or not. Active listening is a structured way of listening which focuses entirely on the speaker. Advocates use active listening skills during crisis intervention in order to help the client focus and feel understood. It is non-judgmental and accepting while conveying the desire to understand what the client is feeling and saying. Active listening helps the speaker clarify their though, vent if they need to and better understand their feelings. Often people come to us with problems to be heard and validated, not necessarily to get a solution.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to become a better listener:
1. Who is doing the majority of the talking- the person with the problem or me?
2. Am I asking questions based on my own curiousity or are the questions that I’m asking relevant to the issue that they are struggling with?
3. Am I listening or making to do lists in my head?
4. How does he/she know I am listening? Am I reflecting feeling and content back to him/her?
5. Am I empowering him/her or trying to “fix” the problem?
Here’s another tip: Ask open-ended questions like: “I’d like to hear more about your job.” as opposed to “Do you like your boss?”.
“People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” And, you can make them feel more positive, or even understood or helped, by active listening.