Listening Skills

Being listened to

It is important for people to have the opportunity to explore difficult feelings.  Being listened to in confidence, and accepted without prejudice, can alleviate general distress, despair and suicidal feelings.

Often being listened to is enough to help someone through a time of distress.  Even just showing that you are there for them, and that you know they are going through a distressing time, can in itself be a comfort.

Are you a good listener?

Do you:

  • Always try to give people your undivided attention?
  • Let them sit in silence and collect their thoughts if they need to?
  • Question them gently, tactfully and without intruding?
  • Encourage them to tell their story in their own words and in their own time?
  • Refrain from offering advice based on your own experience?
  • Always try and see their point of view even though you may not agree with it?​​

… these can help show someone that you are really listening to them.

or Do you:

  • Look around the room or glance at your watch while they are talking?
  • Finish their sentences for them and correct their grammar?
  • Interrupt to tell them how you once had a similar problem?
  • Make a snap judgement based on their accent, dress or personal appearance?
  • Tell them what you would do in their position?
  • Say you understand before you’ve heard what their problem is?

… but these can give the impression that you are not listening.

Helping a Suicidal Friend or Relative

Be quiet and listen!

If someone is feeling depressed or suicidal, our first response is to try to help. We offer advice, share our own experiences, try to find solutions.

We’d do better to be quiet and listen. People who feel suicidal don’t want answers or solutions. They want a safe place to express their fears and anxieties, to be themselves.

Listening – really listening – is not easy. We must control the urge to say something – to make a comment, add to a story or offer advice. We need to listen not just to the facts that the person is telling us but to the feelings that lie behind them. We need to understand things from their perspective, not ours.

Here are some points to remember if you are helping a person who feels suicidal.

What do people who feel suicidal want?

  • Someone to listen. Someone who will take time to really listen to them. Someone who won’t judge, or give advice or opinions, but will give their undivided attention.
  • Someone to trust. Someone who will respect them and won’t try to take charge. Someone who will treat everything in complete confidence.
  • Someone to care. Someone who will make themselves available, put the person at ease and speak calmly. Someone who will reassure, accept and believe. Someone who will say, “I care.”​

What do people who feel suicidal not want?

  • To be alone. Rejection can make the problem seem ten times worse. Having someone to turn to makes all the difference. Just listen.
  • To be advised. Lectures don’t help. Nor does a suggestion to “cheer up”, or an easy assurance that “everything will be okay.” Don’t analyze, compare, categorize or criticize. Just listen.
  • To be interrogated. Don’t change the subject, don’t pity or patronize. Talking about feelings is difficult. People who feel suicidal don’t want to be rushed or put on the defensive. Just listen.​

You may also find it helpful to read our information page Understanding Suicide.

Source: Befrienders Worldwide

In Summary


  • Approach your friend and let him/ her know you have noticed.
  • Ask about his/ her well-being.
  • Listen to his/ her problems and feelings.
  • Be accepting, do not judge.
  • Be patient and gentle.
  • Show that you care.
  • Ask openly and directly if he/she is thinking of harming himself/ herself.
  • Take threats seriously.
  • Get help.
  • Call Befrienders.


  • Don’t offer empty words or reassurance.
  • Don’t give up on your friends – maintain contact with the person at risk.
  • Never assume that talk of suicide is simply a manipulation for attention.
  • Don’t think that having previously failed an attempted suicide will prevent someone from another attempt.
  • Don’t minimize your friend’s pain.


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