Here’s a series of situations. A close one just lost someone they love, a colleague feels overly intimidated and hence anxious by your boss; a cousin is battling depression. What’s common between them? They need to talk, and you need to listen. There’s always a way to listen better. And here’s a quick guide to help you understand how to actually listen, even when it gets uncomfortable.

Ask often

The thing with people of the closed-book kind, is that they often feel they ‘burden’ others by speaking out, and that demon needs to be put to sleep by you, the listener. If your friend in need isn’t forthcoming with their emotions, try to initiate the conversation. Something along the lines of, “You don’t seem yourself; is something on your mind; anything you’d like to talk about?”. And take it from there. Assure them that their feelings matter, that they bring something to the table even if they can’t see it, that speaking out will ultimately work two-fold: a.) It will make them feel leaps better. b.) It will bring you both closer than before.

Engage gently

Being an active listener can be extremely hard; hearing someone out for a long period of time isn’t what you’re trained in, unless you’re a mental health professional. But the payoff of being a compassionate listener, is splendid. Once they start talking about what’s bothering them, start making mental notes on the areas you can help them with, and then when it’s your time to speak, reply (lovingly, skip the tough love method) point by point, so they know they’ve been truly heard. If there arises any situation or feeling you’re not familiar with, it’s a darling gesture to say, “I’m not sure I fully understand, but what I do know is that I support and love you nonetheless”.

Empathise more

 Actors often use the ‘method acting’ formula, one where you use your personal life’s emotions to get completely under the skin of the character you’re playing. In context, you can do the same, except, you’re not acting. Being empathetic means communicating what you went through when someone goes through a similar period that you did. This helps in assuring your friend that they’re not alone, and also gives them a different perspective on the situation. Use your own grief to help them with theirs.

Hang out

The absolute best and most important step: Hanging out with their pain. More so than not, a person going through something does not hold the capacity to hear sentences like, “I’ll be there for you”, or, “There are plenty more fish in the sea”. And that’s okay. The most supportive you can be is just being there for them. If that means sitting in silence over the phone, or just beside each other on the balcony — either way, just hang out with their pain. It’s okay if it gets awkward, just let them know you’re holding space for them to feel all that they’re feeling, and that they have a reliable shoulder to cry on (literally), should they need to.

Hug tight

After a cathartic bawl, nothing feels better than a squishy hug from your close one. Understand, they may not even have the energy to hug or smile, but go on, and give them a tight, laughter-inducing hug. Maybe even tell them a lame joke. Here, I’ll give you one to bookmark. Q. What do corals stress about? A. Current events. You smiled, didn’t you? Let’s share that smile with a loved one today.