The following post was submitted by Craig Krsek that reflects on Tom Howard’s “The Art of Listening”
ILFFPS’s Faith Coordinator, Tom Howard wrote a Power Point presentation available on the ILFFPS website called, “The Art of Listening.” It highlights skills that are an integral part of peer support, but those that are not easily mastered or regularly employed in our task-oriented work environment. This article is meant to take a closer look at how this “Art” is needed to facilitate the balance between being a Firefighter and an effective Peer Supporter.
By nature, Firefighters are problem solvers. Functioning effectively in the role of Firefighter requires one to quickly assess the situation at hand, form a plan of action, and implement the steps needed to mitigate whatever situation we are faced with, all in a matter of seconds. From the most mundane to the most dynamic call, this is a repeated process that almost becomes automatic in our work. Working within an assigned company, Firefighters often complete this cumulative task with very little conversation, as each member of the company has a pre-assigned role.
Reminding oneself to slow down and take a deep breath, affords the mind an opportunity to process the information it is taking in, and in some cases, that act can prove to be lifesaving.
To be an effective Firefighter, one must be an efficient problem solver, who safely negotiates the delicate balance between the desire to act and the inherent safety risks we face. In our role as peer supporters, the ability to listen and allow ourselves to be present is a key component of the peer support interaction. If that effort is absent, the end result may be counterintuitive and potentially harmful to the process and individuals involved.
Instead of developing a plan of action, we as peer supporters need to be mindful that our role is to be available by listening and affording our brother or sister the opportunity to talk through the issue that brought about our interaction through peer support. As Tom Howard presented, using non-verbal gestures such as head-nodding and direct eye contact, in addition to positive, responsive body language, we as peer supporters can convey that we are engaged in the discussion. Re-framing what is said and asking open-ended and clarifying questions, as appropriate, will also support the development of a positive rapport during the healing conversation. To be an effective Peer Supporter, one must be able to listen and allow oneself to be in the conversation without controlling it, being mindful of our role as a facilitator within the peer support process and not necessarily just a problem solver.