Providing Support Through Active Listening

One of the questions most frequently asked in HAVEN training is “How do you make survivors of interpersonal violence feel better?” or “What do you do to fix a survivor’s situation?”  It is a difficult to help people understand that our job as allies is not to tell survivors what to do or make their choices for them, but rather to support, listen and empower survivors to make their own decisions and have faith in their own ability for creating positive change. We try do this by active listening.

Active listening functions as one of the most valuable tools each of us has, whether we work with survivors or not.  Active listening is a structured way of listening which focuses entirely on the speaker.  We use active listening skills if a survivor discloses an instance of interpersonal violence in order to help that survivor focus and feel understood.  It is non-judgmental and accepting while conveying the desire to understand what the survivor is feeling and saying.  Active listening helps the speaker clarify their thoughts, vent if they need to and better understand their feelings.  Often people come to us with problems to be heard and validated, not necessarily to get a solution.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to become a better listener:

1. Who is doing the majority of the talking- the person with the problem or me?

2. Am I asking questions based on my own curiosity or are the questions that I’m asking relevant to the issue that they are struggling with?

3. Am I listening or making to do lists in my head?

4.  How does he/she know I am listening? Am I reflecting feeling and content back to him/her?

5. Am I empowering him/her or trying to “fix” the problem?

6. Am I asking open ended questions or am I asking close ended questions to get a specific response? For example, asking “How did that make your feel.” as opposed to “So, you must have been pretty angry about that?”

It can be difficult to hear a survivor’s story and not want to jump into action mode to “fix” what’s happening. Even though these feelings are rooted in the very best intentions of caring about a survivor they are problematic. Many survivors of sexual assault, relationship violence or stalking are trying to regain control in their lives after their assault. If you as a friend or ally jump in to “fix” a survivor, you send the message that they still aren’t in control of their own lives. By believing and active listening to a survivor’s story, you give them the power and control back.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to support survivors of interpersonal violence check out to sign up for an upcoming HAVEN training!

Survive? Thrive.

I had a conversation this summer with a friend (who happens to be employed at CHS) about her epic summer adventure. One of the things she said she learned on her trip was that she could survive anywhere. I thought about her comment along with the parts of her trip she had already shared, and corrected her. “No,” I said, “you learned you could thrive anywhere.”

Thus, the “thrive” concept was born.

Students at campuses across the country often struggle to survive – to keep their sanity with all the stressors of college life. I could list those stressors here, but you probably already know college student stressors. That’s not what we want to focus on anyway. We are shifting from avoiding negative outcomes towards attaining positive outcomes.

Motivation that comes from trying to avoid (stressors or weight gain or illness) cannot be as strong as motivation that arises from trying to gain. That’s because if someone is successful at avoiding, they don’t get anything. They can’t see their success because their goal was the absence of something. If I stay healthy because I don’t want to get cancer – and I’m successful – how will I know? I won’t have cancer – but my success will really be seen in all the positive benefits of being healthy.  So why not focus on that from the beginning?

Focus on gaining something. Focus on a tangible benefit. Focus on thriving.

For those of you who write S.M.A.R.T. goals, “thrive” isn’t going to help you much. It doesn’t say what thriving looks like, nor how to get there.

That’s where we become partners in your success. You know what you want and need to change in your life. We know a lot about what’s been proven to help college students thrive. We’re going to share that info with you in new and innovative ways.  Then you can pick and choose what of those topics fits with your needs and goals.

We’ll be posting articles on this blog, on our website, facebook page, and twitter that are all targeted towards helping you thrive.

Topics range from financial management to sustaining the environment to staying physically active. Everything that CHS offers this year – services, marketing materials, health information, and more –will be centered around the goal of helping  you thrive.

Move beyond surviving the rest of this semester – the rest of this year. Thrive instead. Make this year the year where you…