The basic approach to understanding a person’s needs rests on four overall dimensions involving attitudes and behaviours, namely: WELCOME – LISTEN – VALIDATE – SUGGEST. Here are a few explanations:
Welcoming someone can mean that the person is being received with words or actions that communicate spontaneity, warmth and empathy. Receiving somebody just as they are means we avoid conveying judgements through looks, gestures or an intonation that lead them to feel rejected or discredited.
We need to remain aware that we cannot receive someone properly if we are:
- too preoccupied by our own personal problems.
- impatient, distracted, or bored by the subject.
- experiencing physical discomfort such as hunger or fatigue.
- prejudiced against or unsympathetic to the person who is speaking.
Listening attentively shows the person in need that we consider them to be important. Here are a few basic principles that will help foster attentive listening.
- Take the time. Listening means setting aside our current preoccupations and giving the person our full attention. Listening also means being fully present. I cannot listen if I am thinking about something else. Listening requires being there, and being available mentally as well as physically.
- Be silent. First of all, this means an inner silence – silencing our prejudices, our hasty conclusions, etc. Listening doesn’t mean thinking about what to say, or coming up with an answer. It means helping the other person come up with their own answers. Being silent also means knowing how to hold one’s tongue when the other person is thinking. Not just any kind of silence, because there are silences that indicate an absence of spirit, and there are silences that communicate disapproval. We might want to think these silences show we’re listening, but they rarely fool the other person.
- Choose a safe space. In order to build confidence, and to ensure that the person feels safe and protected, they need to be sheltered from prying eyes and ears. We have to choose the proper place and time for the conversation.
To properly understand what the person is telling us, we need to make sure that they have understood our words. The following questions are sometimes used for this purpose: “Am I understanding you properly if I say that…”; “What would you say if I…”; “Do I understand correctly that…”; “What are you expecting from me?”; etc.
We know that there is no magic formula for specific problems and situations. For this reason, we believe it’s more appropriate to suggest avenues to explore so that the people we want to help can decide on the best course of action for themselves.