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When you have started the conversation, what is the best way to encourage someone to open up and really talk to you?

I think they need to feel as comfortable as they can in that environment. They need to feel that you are really listening to them and that you are focusing on what they are saying. They need to feel that they are getting from you some empathic support.

What do you mean by empathic support?

Empathy is a quality of taking a walk in someone else's world as if it were your own, or to put it more simply, walking in someone else's shoes but keeping your own socks on. It is keeping that little bit of yourself back so that you can actually help this person and you are not totally in the situation with them. It's important that they feel listened to, that they feel heard, and that they are feeling helped, generally feeling helped in that situation. This may be the first time that they have disclosed what they are disclosing, and it's so important that the support they are receiving is of the right sort. And there's no real wrong or right way of doing it, it is just a matter of really focusing on that person and having time for them. So it might be good to set aside a time if you can when you know you won't be interrupted.

What would you say are unhelpful things to do when you are trying to empathize with somebody?

I think one of the main things is not listening properly if you are distracted by something. And that can be something that's in the environment or in your mind when you are thinking about something else. Maybe your phone starts ringing or maybe someone knocks on the door, anything that distracts you from the time in hand with that person, they will feel that you are not fully concentrating on them, that the empathy is not there, and that you are not really being helpful to them or listening properly. The most important thing is that they feel heard in an empathic, supportive way.

So it is very important that someone does not start the conversation when they are under maybe pressure for finishing a project or a task themselves.

Exactly, exactly. They need to have the time to set aside to do what they set out to do.

How important is it to use the right body language?

I think helpful body language is getting good eye contact, not looking away, and a good, relaxed, open posture. Be aware of what your hands are doing, and you will know by whoever you are talking to their response, whether you have got that bit right. And notice the body language of the person talking to you, try and mirror what they are doing because they will find that helpful. Negative body language would be looking away, would be seeming to be distracted by something. Maybe your own thoughts can distract you sometimes. Turning away from the person so that they do not feel that they are aiming at your face when they are speaking to you, fiddling with things, fiddling with your hair or things on your desk or trying to get your phone out of your pocket, anything that is distracting from the matter in hand. The expression on your face needs to reflect how interested you are in whoever you are talking to, do not sit with your arms crossed which might seem quite defensive or definitive. Sit back in your chair, relaxed, open posture. Anything that is taking away your concentration on who you are talking to will stop the flow of conversation, probably, and that person will feel that they cannot talk anymore.