How to Listen

No matter who you are or where you’re at in your life journey, every one of us feels better if we have an opportunity to talk about our feelings. It’s very common to have words and emotions bottled up inside, needing to be released in some form or another. Doesn’t it feel good when you have the chance to sit with your best buddy over a tub of ice cream and let it all out? Or give your sibling a big hug and let him or her know what’s wrong? It’s nice to know that people are listening and that they really care.

Listening is not always easy and in the same way that we look for people to listen to us, we need to listen to others – your friends, your parents, your children, etc. – they all need a listening ear as well.

Want to try your ear at being a better listener? Here are three suggestions:

  1. Listen with your body: Body language speaks volumes; simply by looking your friend in the eyes, and turning your body in his or her direction, your friend will know that you’re engaged in the conversation and realize that he or she has your undivided attention.
  2. Provide feedback: Simple responses, such as “Uh-huh,” “I see,” “Oh, really” and periodic head nods demonstrate that you’re interested in what your friend is sharing. However, going overboard and interrupting or waiting for your friend to simply finish talking before providing encouraging prompts to indicate you’re listening is not considered positive feedback. Stay relevant to the topic and sympathize or, if possible, empathize with the person who is talking – even if you don’t necessarily agree with everything he or she is saying.
  3. Focus: Concentrate on what your friend is sharing. Don’t think about what you are going to make for dinner, how your hair looks, or anything aside from what your friend is sharing. Don’t prepare for your next remark; simply focus on what your friend has to share. It’s easy to become self-centred and lose focus but the key to being a good listener is to concentrate on being other-centred, putting aside your thoughts so you can fully focus on what your friend is saying.

It is comforting to know someone cares enough about us to set aside time to listen. So give others a good dose of encouragement by letting them know you’re listening to them.

Feel like nobody’s listening to you? Your Life Counts is here for you. If you ever need to talk anonymously, openly and confidentially, sign into our Online Lifeline.  You can also share your story with us, and with those who may also be looking for help. We care about you!


Please read this important message from Bonny Ball regarding the Power of Words:

The power of words – the language of suicide By P. Bonny Ball

“Committed suicide”, “completed suicide” or “successful suicide” have historically been used to describe a death by suicide. The suicide prevention community is now realizing that this language is not accurate nor is it helpful.

“Committed suicide,” with its implications of criminality, is a carryover from the Middle Ages, when civil authorities, finding the deceased beyond their reach, punished the survivors by confiscating their property. Those who died by suicide were forbidden traditional funerals and burials, and suicide was considered both illegal and sinful by the laws and religions of the time.

Today, the word “commit” presents a particular problem since it is also used for criminal offences such as homicide and assault. Suicide is no longer a criminal act in Canada. The term “successful” used to describe a suicide death does not reflect the reality. Every suicide death is a tragedy, not a success.

Initiated by the Compassionate Friends, in 2002 the CASP Board recommended using death by suicide, died by suicide, suicide or suicide death. These terms are non-judgemental and consistent with how we describe other types of death – died from cancer, died in a car accident, and thus died by suicide.

Likewise, to describe a suicide attempt that does not result in death as a “failure,” “unsuccessful,” or “incomplete” is not helpful, nor is it accurate. Each of these terms imply that the person who attempted suicide is a failure, when, in fact, a suicide attempt that does not result in death gives the person the opportunity to find help and hope.

The terms “non-fatal suicide attempt” or just “suicide attempt” more accurately and appropriately reflects that event.

Changing the language used to describe suicide is not easy – old habits die hard. But as we in the suicide prevention community work to change our language in our own work, the new language becomes more familiar. Most others (even media) usually understand the rationale when we take the time to explain – though they do take reminding!

Change DOES come, if slowly.

Thank you for your support

P. Bonny Ball is past board member and Survivor Chair CASP;member of 2011 Vancouver CASP conference committee. This article is adapted from AMHB “What’s in a Word: The Language of Suicide” Alberta Mental Health Board