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USF - The Counseling Center

Effective Listening/Helping Skills


  • Use a relaxed but attentive posture.
  • Convey a sense of welcome, acceptance, and respect by maintaining comfortable eye contact, speaking softly and reassuringly, and maintaining an “open” body posture (e.g., try not to cross your arms or legs).
  • Respect personal space and do not move toward an agitated person.
  • Be yourself (genuine and real); however, suspend judgment and attempt to be accepting of another’s rights to his/her point of view.
  • Try to convey a calm demeanor; remember that help is always a phone call away.


  • Try to put your own thoughts and feelings aside to better understand the other person’s frame of reference.
  • Listen for underlying feelings and meanings in the content of the message.
  • Listen for non-verbal components of communication (tone of voice, posture, eyes) than can also give information about how the person may be feeling.
  • Remember that silence can be golden so try to resist the temptation to initiate dialogue if there are brief lapses in the conversation.


  • Periodically paraphrase or repeat the essence of what the person has said (content and feelings) to ensure the accuracy of what you think you have heard.
  • Acknowledge concerns and fears without supporting misperceptions.
  • Use open-ended questions (e.g., What, How, When, Where) to encourage greater sharing about concerns and closed-ended questions (those that elicit yes/no or short responses) to gather very specific information.
  • Divide problems into more manageable steps and problem-solve only when the person is ready.
  • Try to collaboratively brainstorm a range of possible solutions and identify multiple resource areas.
  • Avoid arguing, interrupting, lecturing, offering false reassurances (e.g., everything will be ok), trying to “fix” the problem, overtly challenging or confronting, and invading physical space.
  • If your conversation with the student reveals that s/he is:
    • Mildly or moderately distressed:
      • Inform the student of possible resources on campus
      • Verify departmental protocol for dealing with the student’s concerns, if appropriate.
      • Consult with Counseling Center staff, if necessary.
    • Severely distressed (in immediate danger of harming themselves or others):
      • Try to remain calm and request assistance.
      • Call for immediate assistance from the University Police Department if there is immediate danger.
      • Remember that interactions with distressed students can be upsetting; call the Counseling Center of Employee Assistance Services if you need to speak to someone about your interaction.