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You are listening, but are you really hearing me?

It is something we may take for granted but listening is a learned skill and something that we can all do better. Whether this be in the workplace or your personal life, actively listening is a skill that is worth honing.

From our perspective as a mental health charity, we feel it is important to clarify the distinction between empathy and sympathy. Empathy is when you can connect with someone on their level – to be able to stand in their shoes, walk around in them and understand what they are saying and feeling through their eyes.

Empathy is a vulnerable choice, as to be able to truly empathise you must be able to connect with something inside yourself. You don’t need to agree or have experienced the situation personally, rather you must respect the person as an individual and connect with how they are feeling. We all know what it feels like to talk and feel like you are not being heard. If you are experiencing difficulties or struggles, what you need is to be truly and genuinely heard and to have your feelings validated. To be made to feel significant when you are feeling low can be really powerful particularly in enabling you to take the first step and ask for help.

So, how do we listen empathically? Firstly, be aware of how you listen and whether you are able to give your full attention to the speaker. We all live busy lives, juggling a growing number of commitments, but if you have noticed that a friend, colleague or family member is not behaving as they normally would, ensure that you find the opportunity to talk to them about what you have noticed. Putting your own frame of reference aside (not bringing your own story into play) is crucial. While you may think you have experienced something similar, it is impossible to know how someone is feeling or being affected by what is happening in their life. We are all born fixers – when someone comes to us with a problem, we want to help them make it go away but this is not empathy, this is fulfilling a need within ourselves. What someone needs to hear is that we understand how difficult or painful things are for them and that we are there to listen. Sugar-coating what they are experiencing is also not helpful (the phase “at least” should be avoided!) and we would also urge caution around asking “why?” as it is not always as clear-cut as this and sometimes there is no explanation.
We have talked previously about effective communication and the fact that 75% of effective communication is non-verbal.

This non-verbal communication is hugely powerful in conveying that we are actively listening and expressing empathy. Included here are things like body language and eye contact. Being aware of how you come across and whether you are projecting empathy is key as this will empower the speaker to feel you are connecting with them and allow free and honest dialogue.

We all know how it feels when we are not being heard, so imagine how this is amplified for someone who is perhaps struggling with their self-esteem or self-worth. We really can make a difference to how someone is feeling and whether they choose to open-up and share their struggles. Truly listening should not be underestimated as the difference it can make for someone can be profound.

For more information on our services, please visit

You can contact us at the following email addresses: (for training in schools) (for enquiries about courses for individuals or organisations) (for general enquiries or support)


Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) certified courses:

• Wednesday 11th – MHFA Adult 1 day
• Wednesday 18th & 25th – MHFA Adult 2 Day (Tunbridge Wells)
• Monday 23rd & Friday 27th – MHFA Youth 2 day

• Wednesday 1st & Thursday 2nd – MHFA Adult 2 day
• Tuesday 28th – MHFA Adult 1 day

• Wednesday 6th May – Address Your Stress
• Tuesday 9th June (for 4 consecutive weeks) – Introduction to Counselling Skills
• Monday 29th June – Listening Skills Workshop

All courses are in Sevenoaks unless stated otherwise.



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