'Conversations with Vulnerable People' by Laura Traynor
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not the chattiest person in the world. I’m in my element when I have a problem to solve using spreadsheets, not talking to people. And listening to people open up to me about things they’re finding difficult is, well, difficult for me. It’s my instinct to try to help them solve their problems, when I know that often when I’m talking to someone about my problems its not “helpful” suggestions that I need but just a space to talk and get my thoughts in order.
Knowing that we’ll be out and about in the West Highlands and Skye promoting Samaritans and encouraging people to seek help when they need it I thought it was important to get better at listening to people, since people tend to open up to us once they find out we work for Samaritans. I want to be able to have a conversation where the person feels better for having spoken to me, and that I feel confident to talk to people who might be having a hard time. I also wanted to learn some helpful phrases I could use when I’m stuck for something to say and how to end a conversation sensitively. I’d also find it useful to do the course since it’s one we’ll be offering fully funded to people in the West Highlands and Skye, and I’d like to be genuine when I’m suggesting that people take part!
The trainer for the course was very kind and warmhearted, but also effective at moving things along. She managed to create a supportive, comfortable atmosphere among the group, which I thought was impressive given the range of people there as well as with the challenges of it being online! We covered factors that might create vulnerability, recognising the signs of vulnerability in others, assessing our own emotional health, learnt active listening skills to help work out what to say when talking to someone, how to end conversations sensitively, and ways to signpost people to further support.
Now that I’ve done the course I definitely feel that I’m better able to respond to people telling me their troubles. I feel like I now have ways to end a conversation without leaving the person feeling dejected. One phrase in particular was "people might not remember what you've said but they'll remember how you made them feel". That really stood out to me as great advice that I'll use from now on. I’ve also resolved to check in with myself more often about how I’m feeling (maybe I’ll use the Samaritans self help app to track that) so I can better recognise when things are starting to go downhill and take some preventative steps. I’m also going to talk about problems I’m having over with someone who’s a good listener, because it does really help sort things out in your mind. And hopefully I’ll now be better at being a good listener for other people too.
I think anyone could benefit from doing this course. If people come to you with their problems - whether that’s at work, at home or in the community – this course will help you feel more comfortable having those conversations and giving people space to talk rather than feeling like you have to solve their problems for them. It’ll take some practice after the course for the skills to become second nature, so I’m going to try applying the listening skills whenever I’m talking to someone.
I now feel better about having a conversation with someone who is having a tough time, and hopefully that person will feel better too. Can’t give more of a recommendation than that really!