Monday, 22 July 2013

When was the last time you really listened?

Last week I went on an audio editing training session with StoryWorks. We learnt how to carry out 10 minute recorded interviews with people, transfer them to computer, and then edit them down to 3 minutes to provide a succinct but memorable digital story which could potentially be uploaded to a website or blog post as a podcast. The training was great – the day flew by – and at the end I left feeling really inspired – with a new skill to add to my toolkit (need to practice more though, once colleagues have bought the kit) – which could, in the future, be of real value to the team and those wishing to tell their stories.

The session also prompted me to think more about listening skills. I have had some training around this in the past, including on the Mental Health First Aid course. I shall always remember the frustration I experienced when sitting telling the amazing story of my other life as a Heritage Seed Library guardian, only to find that the so-called listener was sitting cross-legged, facing in another direction completely, and apparently staring out of the window!

Despite the training, I am incredibly bad at listening properly most of the time. Whether I'm at work, and a colleague wants to talk to me while I’m writing a long and complex email, or I’m at home and family ask me to listen about work stresses, for example, and I would rather, at that moment, just relax and chill out. 

It’s hard – this listening thing! And that’s even before we bring some serious emotional distress into the equation. When we are mentally distressed, one of the first things we often feel a great need to do is talk to someone else. The very act of talking and being genuinely listened to seems to help a great deal.

There are some excellent guidelines out there. You can read about the value of listening skills for mental health nurses in a piece called “Core communication skills in mental health nursing”:
“...many mental health nurses believe they are not doing anything when they are just listening and as a result they underestimate the value of simply listening and more importantly its therapeutic effect.”

And closer to home, the DIY Futures lottery-funded project has recently been holding Listening Skills workshops as part of its Stories Project. Individuals have volunteered to tell their stories of mental distress, whilst others have volunteered to listen. Project Manager, Jane Cook, has been telling me about the workshops which have been really well received. The project sourced useful guidelines from world-wide, including this piece about listening from the Bloemfontein Samaritans in South Africa and a useful online presentation about the Process of listening.  By October there will be a book of DIY Futures stories available – the culmination of all this storytelling and listening that is currently happening - we’ll let you know more nearer the time.

Perhaps if we all listened that little bit more carefully on a regular basis (listening rather than just hearingthen others would gain the benefits of sharing their story/distress. And even if they felt just a tiny bit less distressed as a result – what an impact that might have overall.

What do you think? Do you have any experiences of good and bad listening to share with us?

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