4 Tips for Talking to Someone Who is Feeling Distressed

Sometimes it can be challenging to know how to help those around us, especially when they are going through a hard time.

We don’t know what to say or do, we want to ‘fix’ whatever it is they are going through, or we worry we might make things worse. 

Here are four tips to consider when talking to someone who is feeling distressed.  

Seek to understand

Sometimes when listening to people share how they feel, we can be overcome with a need to fix the situation, to provide answers, or to assume we know what’s best.

When we seek to understand, however, we do not come from a position of knowing. We listen with the intention of learning from the speaker in order to understand. 

Here’s a useful resource to help you develop your active listening skills.

Allow for silence

It can be tempting to want to fill the silence during an emotional or challenging conversation.  

When we allow for silence, we give the person plenty of time to think and speak. We also show them that they are valuable and worth our precious time – no matter how long it takes.  

We have no objectives other than to allow the person to be heard.  

Be vulnerable

Being vulnerable doesn’t necessarily mean crying or sharing our own story.  

Being vulnerable means sitting with pain and discomfort. It means empathising with the person. 

It means we give space to feel the emotions that come with sharing in loss, grief or concern and allowing ourselves to connect with the other person.  

Have generous assumptions

When we are generous in our assumptions, we don’t jump to snap judgements. Instead we keep an open mind and we give people space to express themselves without our own preconceived notions interfering.  

Generous assumptions do not involve thoughts such as “I bet they are overexaggerating”, “I bet they are seeking attention”, “I bet they have stopped taking their medication”, or “It’s probably their fault”.  

Generous assumptions do involve thoughts such as “They are telling the truth”, “They’re doing the best they can”, and “They are worthy of love and belonging”.

When we seek to understand, it helps us to have generous assumptions. 

If you need to talk, call MIFWA on (08) 9237 8900 between 9:00am-5:00pm. We are here for you.

If you need to talk outside of business hours, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. 

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