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When to Talk and When to Listen

“I know exactly how you feel” “I’ve been there” “A friend of mine went through the exact same thing and she…”

When we need someone to really hear what we have to say, the above statements sometimes do not help the situation. As humans, we want to relate to each other, and that’s absolutely great when there is not a crisis. Often when someone is feeling down or out, we want to lift them by letting them know that they are not alone, but we miss the chance to let them tell their story because we want to categorize them into a specific group of people with a specific problem. We all come from different backgrounds and histories. It is important to recognize that not everyone who has the same experience ends up with the same pattern of thoughts or behaviors.

If a loved one or friend decides to confide in you about what they have been going through, take a pause. Try a few of these tips to help with listening to someone who is in dire need of being heard:

Give them your respect

Respect them – as a friend, loved one, or really anyone you come in contact with. Reassure them that you will not air their news to the public. They respected you enough to seek you out and now you must return the favor.

Let them talk

If you have had similar experiences, you may feel the need to flood them with your details and how you got through. However, this takes the focus away from them. This can also create an overwhelming environment and lack of control for them. You are the one they chose to come to, for an ear and possible guidance. Mostly likely, they believe you are in a good place and need to decompress. However much you want to spill your story, this is not the time. Let them tell their story. If they ask about your similar experience, that is the time to share.

Let them know you are listening

Subtle cues can let them know that you are genuinely interested and invested in what they have to say. A simple nodding of the head or an “mmHmm” murmur can reassure someone that you are hearing them.

Match their style

Good eye contact can be very comforting for some, but others may be telling you a very personal story and may want some privacy at the same time. Sitting side by side may be a better way to deal with this type of situation. If the person seems to be self-conscious about their story or looks away or down many times, match their rhythm and body language to make them feel at ease.

Try not to interrupt. This can be very hard to do when you have in fact experienced what they are talking about. When you hear a pause, you may want to jump right in, ready to tell them how to handle things. When a pause happens, take a breath and see if this is a natural break in the story or if they are finished. The best way to do this is to ask questions. “What happened after XYZ?” Recapping the details you have already heard can also spark more for that person to tell you as well as let them know you truly were listening.

You do not need to be a therapist to be a good listener. You must simply be interested in their story and have a want to help them through whatever they are going through.

If some of the emotions and feelings they express give you a sense that they may want to hurt themselves or are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number at 1-800-273-8255. To start the conversation with someone about suicide, visit for more information.


Janae Shillito, Community Relations Director, The Kim Foundation

Janae Shillito has been with The Kim Foundation since February 2017. She holds two science degrees with her alma maters including the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Janae’s love of volunteering and helping those without a voice created a strong desire to become a part of the non-profit world. In her spare time, she enjoys anything crafty, reading a good book, and being outside with her husband, Cory, and Rottweiler, Hank.