Listen and respond

People need to be genuinely listened and responded to.

Further description

Hearing and listening are different processes. Hearing is a physical process where we let in sounds, without trying to understand them. For the most part, it’s passive. 

On the other hand, listening is an active communication task that requires us to be thoughtful. Unlike hearing, listening is a learned communication skill. One that often we think we’re better at than we actually are! 

There is a difference between someone feeling like they’ve been heard, and someone being genuinely listened to, understood and responded to. 

The listening process can be broken down into 4 steps: 

1. Receiving - acknowledging the message

2. Responding - providing feedback 

3. Recalling - remembering the essence of the message

4. Rating - evaluating the message 

This principle is all about listening and responding. Both of which start from the foundations of validation, kindness, encouragement and respect. 

It’s not about tokenistic engagement. It’s about taking a genuine interest in what people want and returning with an appropriate response. 

Responding lets the speaker know that the message was received and this happens during and after the conversation. For example, within the conversation as moments of affirmation or follow-up questions, and after the conversation as further support or care. Responding in the context of a service might come after a set of interviews, or a survey.

If you are responding to feedback, take care to provide it in a consistent and timely way. One to three business days for online program feedback and 24 hours for more instant communications are generally considered acceptable turnaround times. Mention feedback turnaround times so that users know what to expect. Providing consistent feedback will model accountability and provide users with a sense of safety, security, and trust.

Space and context is key when thinking about how to best listen and respond. People need to feel like they are in a safe space to share. 

Sharing experiences helps to reduce feelings of isolation and provides a sense of normality and support. People may feel more comfortable sharing experiences with those who have gone through similar ones. Peer-to-peer listening is a powerful tool and can take place both offline and online. 

We know that during episodes of depression, consumption of media such as music, internet and television increases. This means that Digital Mental Health Interventions (DMHIs) are increasingly of interest as a solution to the low help-seeking and uptake rates of professional mental health services.

The internet can be a safe space to seek a listening ear. It is a space to find both informational and emotional support. People might feel protected by the option of being anonymous, and online counselling has been perceived to feel more ‘confidential’.

Further, by articulating feelings through writing, or typing, on forums or blog posts, people are more likely to provide detail to their experiences. Additionally, the act of writing has a positive therapeutic effect in itself. 

It’s really important that in any sharing situation, online or offline, the person you are listening to understands your disclosure policy and commitment to safeguarding. 

There are different methods of listening and responding that don’t follow traditional communication methods. For example, we know that young people respond well to interventions that mimic games and have interactive content - how can we listen and respond using these methods? What would work well in your context and with your group of young people?

The more we truly listen and respond, the better our services for young people will be.


Further reading