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Mental Health

Reflect & encourage: Turn a conversation into a way forward

Imagine you’re discussing a topic that really matters to you. How do you feel if the person you’re speaking with doesn’t appear to understand what you’re saying or how you’re feeling?

🧠 Science has shown that the need to feel understood actually has a neurological function. Feeling understood doesn’t just enhance our personal wellbeing, it also activates neural regions of the brain associated with feeling socially connected.

The opposite is true as well. Feeling misunderstood activates parts of the brain that make us feel disconnected from the people around us.

This is why helping others feel understood in conversation is important — by encouraging people to feel connected, we’re creating a space for more open, honest and meaningful discussion.

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💡 Show that you understand

The key to helping your conversation partner feel understood is pretty simple — it’s about showing that you understand.

But broadcasting it directly isn’t an effective tactic — saying “I understand you” will sound robotic and only get you so far.

It’s important to evidence your understanding through conversational techniques. Demonstrate to the person you’re talking to that you recognise what they’re saying and how they’re feeling.

In this pathway, we’ll explore two conversation skills that will help – Reflection of Feeling and Encouragers.

🚨 Room for debate: aren’t we also responsible for making ourselves better understood?

Speaking at a TED Talk, Fiona McNae, co-founder of Space Doctors, said that we should all “take responsibility for being understood”.

McNae’s talk focused on commercial communication, but it’s a valid perspective for all kinds of dialogue. Conversations aren’t a one-way street. It’s also up to you to make sure you’re communicating your views in a way that minimises miscommunication.

McNae’s point is a reminder that we all have a stake in maximising understanding, whether we’re the speaker or the listener. We all need to be proactive in improving understanding to develop better connections.

🗝️ Your key takeaway

Understanding is essential to having a supportive conversation. By using reflections and encouragers, the people you speak with will feel better understood. You’ll have more meaningful conversations that make you and others feel socially connected.

💬 What do you think?

Do you feel that you make enough of an effort to understand people and evidence your understanding in conversations? How does it feel to be misunderstood? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Read next: Reflect feelings to test understanding

This forms part of the Reflect & Encourage pathway in Mental Health Works, a program designed in partnership with Mental Health Innovations — the UK's leading digital mental health charity. This resource is all about identifying the feelings and messages shared by your conversation partner, and putting them into your own words when you reply.