Ahead of Time to Talk Day, we wanted to share one of our favourite coaching exercises to help make conversations around mental health easier. ‘The Listening Wheel’ was originally devised by The Samaritans charity to help develop our emotional awareness and listening skills. We find it a really valuable tool in our workplace mental health workshops and in particular, our workshop for Time to Talk Day – ‘Cultivating Conversations around Mental Health.’
Research shows that the average person listens at only about 25% efficiency.
Yet, when we don’t actively listen, we miss out on all sorts of cues that help us understand, and trust one another on a deeper level. Listening goes well beyond being quiet and giving someone your full attention. Part of being non-judgmental is listening to really understand what the other person is trying to communicate, rather than making quick assumptions or jumping to conclusions.
Effective listening is particularly important when team members are emotionally distressed or talking about their mental health. So we turn to the Listening Wheel as a helpful took to structure your conversation. Let us talk you through the six aspects of the Listening Wheel:
Open-ended questions are questions that cannot be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and instead require the respondent to elaborate on their points. Examples of open questions.
“How are you feeling?” ‘what’s been happening.’
Who, what, where, when, how (why)
A summary helps to show the individual that you have listened and understood their circumstances and their feelings. Especially useful at end of conversation. Use their words as close as possible. Summarise what they’ve told you, any potential decisions they’ve made, keep using other steps in the wheel (words of encouragement, reflecting).
Reflecting: throughout the conversation
This shows you’ve been listening, and it’s okay to revisit older parts of the conversations. Use their vocab when you can!
“You’ve said your partner’s been arguing with you a lot…”
“You mentioned earlier that you were struggling to cope…”
Are simple questions of fact ‘when you said x what did you mean exactly?’ Did I hear you say?’
Rather than filling in the gaps yourself, clarifying is key! Ask questions if you’re not sure, you may worry they’ll think you haven’t been listening, but actually this shows you’re genuinely interested and want to paint a clear picture in your head.
Short words of encouragement:
Encourages them to open up to you and builds a rapport. The person may need help to go on with their story – use words like ‘yes’ or ‘go on’.
We need to show that we have understood the situation by reacting to it, eg “That sounds like it is very difficult”.
These techniques are so simple but studies show they are often underused. It’s actually not easy to listen effectively – we are distracted by so many things (not least what we are going to say next) so this is a skill we need to practice. We hope you’ll feel inspired to put this wheel into practice at work, or have it up your sleeve for the next time a sensitive conversation arises.
Have you put the listening wheel in to practice? Let us know how it helped.
If you’re looking to mark Time to Talk Day at your workplace, our virtual workshop will equip you with the tools to initiate, sustain and continue meaningful conversations around mental health. Get in touch if you would like to know more.