How to effectively listen to a distressed student
225 Martin Hall
Cheney, WA 99004
If a student approaches you to discuss a problem or concern, you obviously have already set the stage for good communication (otherwise, the student would not have approached you). Below are listed some general tips regarding effective listening. Depending upon the situation, added to this would be to make certain the physical environment or location is conducive to effective communication (e.g., in most cases, it would not be appropriate to engage in an emotional discussion within a classroom with several other students present).
Physical Attending Behaviors
- Facing other squarely.
- Good eye contact.
- 'Open' posture.
- Leaning toward the other.
- Remaining relatively relaxed.
- Your posture reflects or communicates your willingness to respond to the student.
Psychological Attending Behaviors
- Attend to nonverbal behaviors and cues (i.e., what is the student's behavior and appearance telling you about his/her health, energy level, feeling state...).
- Listen to verbal behavior (both what is said, and the tone in which it is stated; are these congruent?).
1. Provide an open invitation to talk, showing concern and interest.
2. Listen carefully.
3. Use open questions and minimal encouragers.
4. Avoid criticizing or sounding judgmental.
5. Summarize or repeat back the essence of what the student has told you.
6. Connect to resources as necessary (e.g., suggest the Counseling Center as a resource).
Know Your Boundaries
- Know your limitations. If you feel "in over your head," you probably are.
- Responsibility to student includes responsibility to refer when appropriate.
- Assist students in identifying and utilizing available resources. When individuals 'own' their decisions, they are much more likely to follow through.
- Regarding confidentiality: Do not agree to secrets you cannot keep. If students ask for your confidence, state you will treat what they say in a professional manner.
- Consult with colleagues, CAPS staff, and area professionals as appropriate. Spokane Mental Health (509-838-4651) is an excellent resource for after-hours consultation, as is First Call For Help (509-838-4428).