Learning, listening and uplifting: how I’ve grown as a Shout volunteer
Alyssa, one of our trained Shout Volunteers, shares how the skills she has gained from volunteering have had a positive impact on her life.
When I filled in my Shout application form last year, I had no idea about the amount of learning and development that I’d experience from the moment I started training. Whilst I made sure to do my research to get a sense of what would be involved, I quickly realised that volunteering for the charity doesn’t mean switching on some magical ‘volunteer switch’ when you take a conversation on the platform to guide someone from a hot moment to a cool calm, only to be switched off when you log out. Instead, it’s a light that’s always burning, guiding the way through daily life to bring compassion, understanding and perspective to yourself and those around you.
I’ve found that I’ve been able to connect with friends and family on a deeper level.
Becoming a better listener
With May marking 6 months as a Shout Volunteer, it’s the perfect time to reflect on what I’ve learnt so far, and provide an insight into how you could shine with Shout.
The idea that being a good listener is important is nothing new, but as Shout is all about conversations, it makes sense to start here. Simply being able to listen to others is one thing, and being a good active listener takes your communication skills to the next level. Shout nurtures this.
Being a volunteer has taught me that to make someone feel truly heard, taking onboard everything that the other person says is your starting point. Then, after considering what they’ve said, show them that you’re both on the same wavelength by acknowledging their words. Without probing, it’s handy to ask some questions to clarify how an event or issue is making them feel.
Using the active listening framework off the platform highlighted to me how much I’d underestimated the role of the listener - I’ve found that when I’ve used these skills on the video calls that have become a feature of the pandemic, I’ve been able to connect with friends and family on a deeper level. When a person’s face lights up with a smile as they say “that’s exactly it!” or “I guess I’d never thought about it that way!” or something similar, I can’t help but smile with them. Even if they don’t show that they feel listened to, I remember that opening up about something to someone is an excellent first step for them, and conversations can stay with you long after they end.
Taking your time to listen before chiming in is another focus of Shout - when I started taking shifts, I felt an urge to respond in an instant, but instead, took my time to craft a reply. I take this off-platform, not being afraid to take a step back in a discussion and see it from another angle.
Unfortunately, us Shout volunteers don’t have a magic wand to make everything that our texters share with us better, but what we can offer is often some perspective and a problem-solving partner to figure next steps out together.
Developing problem-solving skills
A texter might reach out to us because they want to change something in their life. The biggest takeaway from Shout in terms of problem-solving is that it doesn’t mean giving out advice, or telling someone what to do - after all, they know themselves and their situation best. Instead, answers should come from the individual, with some questions and prompts to help out.
Talking things through, and coming up with a plan when I’ve been discussing things in real life has made people feel more confident, positive, and in-control.
Despite its name, though, problems aren’t always solved, but this isn’t a sign of failure - instead, it’s the beginning of a process, and hopefully they’ll begin to feel like they have the tools to tackle what life is throwing at them.
When I get swamped with essay deadlines, with exams on the horizon and group projects to complete, I draw upon my time on the platform to help me through.
Putting the skills into practise
Many university students have struggled over this lockdown period, and being a first-year university student, I’ve certainly felt the challenges associated with remote studying. When I get swamped with essay deadlines, with exams on the horizon and group projects to complete, I draw upon my time on the platform to help me through. When you’re talking to multiple texters, or taking a high-risk conversation, you quickly learn that being stressed, or panicking, won’t help anyone, and daily life is no different. Reaching out to your support network, coming up with a plan, and taking some time for self-care is the way forward, and leaves me motivated, confident, and in-control.
While a driving force behind wanting to volunteer is likely to be a desire to help others, hopefully I’ve shown some ways that it can give back, too. If you’ve been thinking about volunteering for a while, but you’re feeling apprehensive, this is your sign to go for it - when you lift the people you’re there to help, up, you’ll take yourself, friends, family and strangers with you - the sky’s the limit, after all.
We are currently only looking for people who can commit to volunteering during the night time and early hours of the morning for us. If you are a night owl and can commit to volunteering from 10pm onwards, we’d love to hear from you!