Improve your listening skills

Give someone the gift of listening this Christmas

For many people, Christmas can be a time when they feel the need to hide what they’re really feeling. And with all the pressure to enjoy the festivities, it can be difficult to ask for help.

If you’re worried about someone and don’t know how to start a difficult conversation, there are some things you can do to help them open up.


Find a good time and place

Before you do anything, think about where you are. Are you in a place where the other person feels comfortable? It’s important to make sure you’re in a place where you both have plenty of time to talk and that you can’t be overheard.

Respect what they tell you.

If someone doesn’t want your help, don’t push them. Sometimes it’s better for people to make their own decisions. So instead, help the other person to think of all the options available to them, but leave the choice to them. You don't have to fix anything. The important thing is that you let them know you’re there for them.

If you’re not sure how to help someone...

The best thing you can do is to ask questions. That way you leave the other person in control. Questions that help someone talk through their problems instead of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ are the most useful. Try asking them things like:

  • When – ‘When did you realise?’
  • Where – ‘Where did it happen?’
  • What – ‘What else happened?’
  • How – ‘How did that feel?’

The important thing to remember is to pay attention and focus only on them. Showing someone who might feel they have nobody, that there is someone who cares and wants to give them the listening ear they need, can be really reassuring.

I didn’t know this person, I would never meet this person, but just by listening they made me feel a million times better 
Samaritans caller

Show you understand.

Try to ask follow-up questions and repeat back the key things they tell you during the conversation. Use phrases like ‘So you’re saying…’ or ‘So you think…’.

Find out how they’re feeling too. Sometimes people will talk you through all the facts of what happened and why, but never say how they actually feel. Revealing your true emotions to someone can be a huge relief.

Look after yourself, and talk to someone too.

Sitting down with someone and listening to what they’re going through can really help that person. But it’s vital that you take time for yourself – hearing someone else’s worries or problems can affect you too.

Remember to do the things you enjoy, and if you need to talk, find someone you can trust and confide in. If it’s easier to talk to someone other than family or friends, why not contact Samaritans?

You can talk to us in your own way.

Remember, help is just a phone call away. If you’ve tried to start a conversation with someone you know and they’ve not felt completely comfortable talking about what’s bothering them, we could help. Our trained helpline volunteers will give them the time and space they need to talk about what’s troubling them.

If you, or anyone, need to talk, we’re here to listen. Call us free on 116 123, or email us on