As a Peer, you’ll provide support to other community members who are coping with life challenges. This support may be particularly valuable because you’re able to offer perspective from your own lived experience.
Not sure how to support someone in need? Try these effective techniques:
Be an active listener. The key is to listen and respond in ways that show you’re listening by repeating back key information like names or previous parts of the story. This practice is known as “reflective listening.” However, don’t use the person’s exact words to respond. Use paraphrasing to be more conversational in your approach. Just be sure that as you restate what they are saying, you are using their words. You could say things like “It sounds like you are saying…” or “What I’m hearing is…”.
Ask questions. You can ask them about what happened or how they're feeling. The key here is to assure them that you’re there to listen. It’s important that the person feels like you are truly interested in hearing what they have to say and that you really want to support them. Your questions should start with words like “How” and “Why” and should evoke discussion rather than one-word responses. Try something like “What happened?”, “What will you do next?”, “How did that make you feel?” and so on.
Provide a bird eye view. Someone who’s facing distress is usually so much stuck into the situation that they are not able to see the clear picture or assess the problem. This makes it impossible for them to find a solution. If you can just listen to the details of the situation they are facing, you can provide a better and clearer solution or options available (if they are interested in that).
Validate their feelings. It’s important that they feel safe expressing their feelings. Try something like: “That’s a lot to deal with”, “I’m sorry that this is happening to you”, “It sounds like that really hurt you”, “I understand”.
Be non-judgmental. Make sure you are not judgmental if you are trying to give emotional support. This means putting aside your own thoughts or preconceived notions about the situation. Really be present and pay attention to what this person is saying. Your agenda should not be to fix the problem or find the solutions. Instead, focus on providing a safe space where they will feel heard.
Offer advice if needed. If you want to give a piece of advice, do give one but after some time. Avoid trying to offer advice unless you are asked. Trying to give advice may make the person feel like you’re being critical and invalidating.
Be authentic. Try not to mirror yourself in the person’s scenario if it's not applicable. Saying, “I know how you feel” when you truly don't isn't helpful.
Don’t argue. People need a safe environment to open up about their personal struggles. What they don’t need is Peers arguing with them or with each other. If you have a difference of opinion that's fine, as long as you express it with kindness.
Trust your own feelings, to an extent. Gut feelings can help when you are trying to understand the other person and show empathy. It’s okay to go with your gut when guessing what someone is feeling or making suggestions. However, if they correct you, accept their correction. Unconditional acceptance is a huge part of emotional support.