In the last 2 months a lady has approached me twice at the end of a 4 Voices shift. Each time she has handed me a razor blade and said, “I need to give you this so I don’t hurt myself”.

I was quite taken aback on the first occasion. I’d never been approached by someone who was serious about and close to suicide. Its confronting and confusing and leaves you wondering what to do next. I hopped out of the vehicle and asked if she was OK. She responded that she was now and walked off through the park.

As you can imagine for the next couple of weeks, I was quite stressed when she didn’t turn up as normal. None of our other regular clients had seen her during the time she was missing and I grew quite concerned. Needless to say when next I saw her I let her know that I wasn’t impressed she’d not shown up after our last interaction. To my surprise she was quite apologetic but more importantly appreciated my concern. For her this elevated her status to someone worth worrying about and who would be missed.

The second instance was no less confronting however this time I was better prepared to deal with it. I accepted the razor blade, asked if she was ok and watched her walk off through the park. This time I am ready if she doesn’t show up or to start a difficult conversation with her.

As she walked off the first time, I thought to myself why me? I was the only male on shift, why hadn’t she approached one of the ladies? I was quite concerned about this interaction and discussed it with friends so as to get my head around it. The over whelming thought was I had earned this lady’s trust and she felt comfortable in talking to me.

So how did I earn this Trust?

So, over time I’ve learnt if you want to get something back from someone you first need to give something of yourself.

As part of my transition from the military I participated in Stephen R Covey’s “7 habits of effective people”. The biggest learning I took from this training was “Seek first to understand”. This means putting yourself in the back seat and listening, really listening, to the person that is talking to you. It’s about being empathetic, not judging or interjecting as the person speaks. Through listening you will build emotional credits with the other person. Over time these credits buy creditability and trust from the other person.

As I thought about our conversations I realised they were primarily one way. We would sit or stand around the van and she would tell me about her life past and present. She shared insecurities, paranoid delusions and thoughts on the world. She wasn’t after responses just someone to listen. I dealt with this in my blogs “Arrgh” (Jan 22) and “Better” (Aug 22). Through “seeking to first understand” I had gained a level of trust that she now feels comfortable sharing he darkest thoughts.

It feels weird to be in the situation where I have potentially saved a life just by listening. Nothing heroic or dramatic, just listening.

Many of the people that read this blog give their time to helping others. In all first encounters on a shift, face to face or remote, there is a level of trepidation from those we are helping. They don’t know who we are and to an extent don’t care. They want the service we bring, food, clothes, bedding, laundry etc. They are reluctant to share their lives and struggles with a stranger who is better off than them. It can take a while for them to realise that what we have to offer can be of greater value than the services we provide.

The length of each shift provides a safe environment where they don’t risk harm from others. In the shift each volunteer provides a willing ear and empathetic interaction. Over time as I earn the trust of various clients, I learn more of their trials and tribulations. I know have shift-based relationships, based on trust, with many of our clients. Turning up to a shift where people with nothing are genuinely happy to see you is an incredible feeling.

If your reading this blog can I suggest you take away the “seek first to understand” communication style. This works in any situation, work, home even a car accident. It demonstrates empathy which can determine control emotions in any discussion.

It’s all about Trust. Give something of yourself and they will give their trust. Once they give you their trust you are part of their world.

Published by zimmermanwalks

An Australian military veteran, I spend my time volunteering for a number of organisations and blogging on the challenges faced by Veterans.

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