This is the most instantly useful book I have read this year. The subtitle shows exactly what it is for: “Tools for opening up conversations when it matters most”.
Produced with the Samaritans and drawing on the experiences of their volunteers and service users, whose useful and detailed insights appear throughout the book, this is a straightforward guide to active listening. It is very easy to read and no special skills are needed.
The Samaritans use the helpful acronym SHUSH for active listening: Show you care, Have patience, Use open questions, Say it back, and Have courage .
“Have Courage” is very relevant. Often we would like to ask how someone is, but we are worried that we might make things worse or not be able to deal with that person’s distress. Samaritans service user James says: “It’s really not about being a specialist or having particular knowledge. It’s about being a compassionate human being. I wish people had the confidence to realise they are able to offer real help just by listening”.
How to Listen warns against giving advice or relaying your own experiences, suggesting instead that listeners prioritise giving people the space to express and explore their own problems and to come to their own solutions. This has been a revelation for me. It provides useful advice on spotting people who may be in distress and helps you listen to them properly without distractions. One thing to do the next time you’re talking to someone: put your phone away and really pay attention.