Supportive listening is a technique that enables a person to demonstrate concern during a conversation. Whether it is a client, a friend or even a co-worker, supportive listening has the ability to deepen connections in addition to defusing and clarifying thoughts. It is a skill that can enhance the quality of a relationship. Being heard, understood, and respected builds a foundation for future conversations.


A conversation can start simply enough with one question: can I talk to you?”. But what is really being asked is “will you listen to me?”.

There is a connection that can take place when a person feels safe to share feelings and experiences, and know they’re being heard. A catharsis occurs when two people are engaged in a productive conversation. When done with skill and care, a person in need of a listening ear can leave the conversation feeling like some of the emotional burden is lifted and perhaps the situation will be less overwhelming.

Sometimes it takes a leap of faith to confide in others. Our current world circumstances have added to our sense of isolation and loneliness. In the last year, many people have experienced an erosion of personal wellness and support systems. There are uncertainties and fear for the future and a greater need for people to connect with others, to know they are not alone.


Often a general acknowledgement of the situation at the beginning of the conversation helps to encourage the conversation. “I’m glad you are sharing this with me, this is important, please tell me more”. An acknowledgement opens the door and conveys the message of “I want to listen and I’m willing and able to be a part of this conversation”. Being fully present is key to demonstrating respect. When possible, find a location where distractions are minimized. Use positive body language such as eye contact to help show engagement. Often when we listen, it’s with the intent to reply. Slowing our responses increases our ability to hear the meaning of what is being said.

Supportive listening may seem intimidating because there is a fear that it involves counselling. However, it can be accomplished by anyone who wishes to offer support. All it requires is a willingness to be patient and put personal needs and beliefs on the backburner. Each of us has our own values and belief systems but it is important not to judge the choices and feelings of another.


Bringing clarity to a cloudy situation can be achieved when engaged in effective supportive listening. Digging deeper and asking open-ended questions is helpful to understand the details of the situation while allowing the other person to continue to share. Questions should be asked with care and should advance the conversation. Are they framed in a positive light? Good questions can help to explore possibilities for other supports or help define what is most important for that person at that moment. Sometimes a person may have an idea of what they want or need but lack the language to name it clearly.

Reflecting feelings helps to make connections, find meaning, and explore possibilities for additional support in the community if needed. While supportive listening is different from counselling, it does help a person in need to focus on what they require for help and what they hope to achieve at the end of the conversation. Other times all a person requires is a non-judgmental listener. Not everyone is comfortable in describing their emotions and may require support to do so. Creating a space where a person can share their feelings and experiences through accurate reflection can help to frame feelings and thoughts in a clearer light.

Supportive listening is about taking the time to hear what a person needs and to respect what they are feeling. Good listening will use a 70/30 rule; 70% of the conversation is spent listening, while 30% is speaking. It is important for this balance to keep the conversation moving forward and to be productive. While many issues and feelings cannot be completely resolved in a single conversation, positive ground can be achieved through supportive listening. By providing a caring, listening ear, a person can feel heard, understood and respected. ConnexOntario staff are trained to listen and to connect with people who are reaching out for help. Often people are experiencing frustrations navigating the mental health system. They express fear and worry for loved ones or themselves and sometimes they are not sure of what type of help they require. In the last year, these conversations also focused on the erosion of personal wellness and fear for the future. There is a greater need for people to connect with others and to know they are not alone. Connex provides a safe, caring environment for a person to connect and to share their situation. Being heard, understood and respected builds a foundation for a successful conversation and increases the likelihood of seeking additional support within the community. Supportive listening builds a quality connection, one person at a time.