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Good Samaritans Volunteers Helping Victims Program Handbook and Training Guide
Top navigation About This Guide Message From the Director Acknowledgments About the Authors Related Links
Photo: Man and woman looking out of a broken window.

Publication Date: April 2009

minus iconFilling a Void—Origins of the Program
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minus iconVolunteers: Recruiting,
Screening, and Training

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minus iconModule 2: The Victim Experience
Module 3: Basic Skills for Volunteers
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Module 3: Basic Skills for Volunteers

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When I ask you to listen to me, and you start giving advice, you have not done what I asked.

When I ask you to listen to me, and you begin to tell me why I shouldn't feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings.

When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problem, you have failed me, strange as that may seem.

Listen! All I asked was that you listen, not talk or do. Just hear me.

Advice is cheap. A quarter will get you both Dear Abby and Billy Graham in the same newspaper.

And I can do for myself. I'm not helpless, maybe discouraged and faltering, but not helpless.

When you do something for me, that I can and need to do for myself, you contribute to my fear and inadequacy.

But when you accept as a simple fact, that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I can quit trying to convince you and can get about the business of understanding what's behind this irrational feeling, and when that's clear, the answers are obvious and I don't need advice. Irrational feelings make sense when we understand what's behind them.

Perhaps that's why prayer works sometimes, for some people, because God is mute and doesn't give advice or try to fix things.

So please listen and just hear me, and if you want to talk, wait a minute for your turn, and I'll listen to you.

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Active Listening

Active listening is a learned skill. When we listen actively, we give our full attention to the speaker in a manner that is—

  • Open
  • Nonjudgmental
  • Accepting
  • Genuine
  • Empowering

Active listening involves focusing only on what that person is conveying to us and reflecting back in empathetic phrases only what we feel the speaker's message meant. We don't add our own feelings, thoughts, ideas, suggestions, or recommendations.

People are less afraid of their feelings when they are given the opportunity to discuss them openly.

It is called "active" listening because you are actively trying to grasp the feelings and facts being expressed.

It is a process of thinking with people, not for them or about them.

Learning just a few very simple skills can teach you to be a better active listener. The challenge is in overcoming years and years of cultural training that encourages all of us to communicate differently.

Why can active listening be difficult to learn? We'll answer that question with some other questions. Have you ever been certain about what someone else should do about his or her own problem? Have you ever given someone else unsolicited advice? Corrected someone? Of course, we all have.

Learning to change your response is the hard part. But with practice, and by participating in the exercises in this module, you can become a more skilled active listener and offer a crime victim just the sort of support he or she needs in a crisis.