Helping People on the Phone

Supporting people on the phone, especially when face-to-face communication isn’t possible can be challenging. Depending on the circumstances, it can also be frustrating, worrisome and a bit nerve-wracking too.smartphone pic

Helping people on the phone may not seem like rocket science. But if you are the listener/helper and the one being called for support, here’s a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Listen carefully, especially for signs that the person may be in danger from self harm or being harmed by others.
  • Take notes…nothing fancy, just important topics to cover or be clear on, which may be of use in the future.
  •  Recognize your own limitations of knowledge, expertise, and where and when your own personal “buttons” come into play  that may get triggered during the conversation.
  • Exercise stewardship of the conversation. (Depending on the nature of the relationship, that may mean control, too, on where the conversation goes, and for how long.) The person on the other end of the line sought you out for help. Uncertainty on your end or apparent lack of direction and what steps to take next only makes it harder for the person you’re trying to help.
  • Know when it’s time to bring the call to a close and signal that gently to the caller so that he or she is aware of a up-coming transition.
  • Establish a clearly stated follow-up plan whenever possible, and when applicable, to expand the circle of additional resources for the caller to consider.
  • In non-emergency settings, it’s helpful to remember that honoring your time and setting limits on engagement is not only appropriate but therapeutic in the long run, too, for the caller. The key is striking a balance between your availability and good heart on one hand and avoiding being manipulated on the other.
  • With the above tips firmly in place, then I’ll end by saying that listening, supporting and truly being present to another person at their moment of need, is a priceless gift that each gives to the other.

If needed:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline  800-273-8255
American Psychological Association


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