Steps to Developing Listening Skills for Crisis Intervention


Skillful listening requires you to put your own thoughts and feelings aside. Your role is to use empathy to understand what the speaker is experiencing. Focus on the words that the person is saying, the physical signals (for example, vocal tone, hesitation, gestures) that accompany those words and the ideas that the person is communicating. Avoid using pauses as an excuse to interrupt. Remember that the speaker is directing the conversation. Allow the person in crisis to describe the situation at his or her own pace and style.


Show the person in crisis that you are giving your full attention. Invite the person to sit down and remove any distractions that might interrupt your conversation.

Use "matching" to help the person in crisis feel more comfortable. Matching is based on the idea that people are generally most comfortable with those who seem like them. Matching the speed, tone and language of the speaker creates a sense of familiarity.

Use open-ended or dangling questions to draw out details. An open-ended question cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or "no," so it gives the speaker room to say more about the problem. For example, instead of asking, "Were you frightened?" ask the person "What did that feel like?" A dangling question is an unfinished statement that implies a question. For example, "When that happened, your children were..."

Active listening is another way of building trust. Encourage the speaker with short phrases that show you are paying attention. As the conversation continues, you can verify that you understand the situation correctly by repeating key phrases used by the speaker or summarizing what he or she is saying. Use reflective language to identify key points. For example, if the speaker seems particularly concerned about his children, say, "You seem worried about how the situation is affecting your children."

Other Considerations

Crisis intervention often raises difficult ethical questions. While you must respect the thoughts and feelings of the person in crisis, you are not required to abandon your own values to endorse ideas or actions that seem wrong to you. For example, if the speaker says her situation is hopeless and she wants to kill herself, your response may reflect your own values. You should acknowledge the speaker's feelings, but you can also express an alternative view. For example, you might suggest, "I think you can find a better solution."

In addition to good listening skills, successful crisis intervention requires cultural competency. Cultural competence is the ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures, requiring a positive attitude toward cultural differences and knowledge of different cultural practices. Developing cultural competence helps you understand, communicate and effectively interact with people across cultures. Crisis intervention requires empathic listening, a technique that allows the person in crisis to feel heard without being judged. This method asks the listener to focus on the thoughts and feelings of the speaker. Helping the speaker feel that he or she is understood reduces stress and defensiveness, clearing the way for clearer thinking about the problem at hand.