What really happens when you text into an emotional support hotline? Do we have a secret key to supportive conversations? What if you want to offer emotional support to someone in your own life? Could you do what we do?
Honestly, there’s nothing exclusive to how we hold conversations with people reaching out to the Games Hotline. While our agents are trained extensively to have familiarity with a wide range of contexts and to be able to provide emotional support to people they don’t know personally, many of the skills we practice can be employed in various interpersonal situations.
If you’ve ever wondered how we typically hold space for an emotionally supportive conversation on the Hotline (and how you might offer the same to those in your life), here’s a basic rundown.
Opening the Conversation
We always open the conversation by asking them about what’s going on, letting them set the tone of the space.
For someone you know, you can open conversations by handing them the mic in a similar way. Here are some examples of really open-ended invitations:
- “I know you have been dealing with (blank); would you want to talk about how that’s been for you lately?”
- “You seem a little more frazzled than usual. I care about you. What’s been going on?”
- “That actually sounds really hard. I’m here for you if you want to talk more about that, even if it’s heavy.”
The goal is to center the person receiving support and let them feel like it’s okay for this space to be all about them and their feelings.
Hearing the Story
Once the conversation is started, our job is to be curious, open, and non-judgmental about whatever they want to share. We stay rooted in our intention to listen, without jumping to problem-solving or swooping in to fix everything. Here, we practice two main skills: validating and reflecting.
Validating involves hearing what the other person is expressing and letting them know that whatever they’re feeling is real and okay. When validating, it’s not about whether we believe that they are right or wrong; it’s about acknowledging and witnessing what they are going through, so they know they’re not alone. For example:
- “I believe you.’
- “That sounds awful.”
- “You’re not crazy. It makes sense you’re feeling this way.”
Reflecting lets us act as a mirror to the other person. This shows that we’re really listening, and it can also help to build trust. Again, reflecting is not analyzing or judging what they’re saying. It’s simply taking what you hear them say and sharing it back with them. For example:
- “It sounds like you’re feeling scared.”
- “I can tell that this is really important to you.”
Remember that it’s not your job to have all the answers. It’s enough just to be present and sit with them in everything they’re feeling. In fact, sometimes, people in difficult situations want validation and comfort more than advice or problem solving.
At the Games Hotline, we don’t give advice. We lay out space for our visitors to discover what the best path forward might be for themselves.
We might ask, “What have you tried in the past?” — “What’s worked? What hasn’t?” — “What are some things you’d like to try?” From there, we may offer related resources, options, referrals, or other considerations that directly link to what they’ve brought up.
Sometimes there’s not a right or good answer, and sometimes there’s very little that they or we have control over in the situation. That’s okay; their experience is still important; and it’s still meaningful to remind them that they’re not going through this alone.
Closing the Conversation
When the chat is wrapping up, we want to leave things on a note that encourages further help-seeking and care. We might ask what self care they could do later tonight. We might go over other friends or loved ones they could reach out to. We might just encourage them to reach back out to us again.
However you end the conversation, make sure to continue centering their feelings, experiences, and the fact that they are intrinsically deserving of care. You might thank them for sharing vulnerability with you. You might set up a follow up conversation down the road. Find a shared path forward that feels good for both of you.
It doesn’t matter that you do it perfectly;
it matters that you do it.
Holding the door open for support is more important than saying all the right things. When we lay compassion out for each other, we allow ourselves to feel connected. And it’s through connection that we are all given the chance to feel hope and peace in the long run.