Of equal importance to what is being said, you must also pay great attention to what is not being said (at least verbally). There are many statistics and studies out there regarding body language, hand positions, stances, eye contact vs. no eye contact, etc. All of these things are critical to getting inside of the individual’s mind during a crisis. Many persons in crisis cannot fully verbalize what they are feeling without extreme outbursts of emotion. Vulgar language can color the sentences and cloud the listening ability of the responder if they are not prepared or ready for such words. Tone of voice and inflection are very important when listening to the actual words that are said. (Get certified in crisis prevention.)
Do you hear stress in their voice—apart from the possible anger, do you hear tension or fear? Listening carefully and watching where the eyes are directed can also tell you quite a bit about the intentions of the person.
In law enforcement, they teach recruits to always be careful of the individual who keeps looking at your holstered weapon. If they are looking at it, it is likely they are considering getting ahold of it. You are taught to adjust your stance, or “get off the X” (meaning that you need to quickly move from that spot) as the individual may be triangulating on that location to lunge. By moving to a new spot, the mind is briefly delayed and/or thrown off and has to readjust the plan. This can buy you time and distance when needed.
Paying attention to the eyes of someone you are talking to, can provide you with a lot of information as well. Are they looking directly into your eyes? Are they avoiding eye contact? Direct eye contact can demonstrate intensity and focused energy. Avoidance of eye contact can mean distraction, or discomfort with the words being said. It may also be a cultural sign of respect NOT to look you in the eye, as it means to challenge or attempt to intimidate. Just as critical to watching the eyes of the individual, is being aware of the message that you send with yours. Be focused and intent with your gaze, though avoid using your eyes as a demonstration of power or intimidation as well. Recognize the importance of the eyes and the old adage “the eyes are the windows to the soul”.
It is also important to avoid letting your mind lose its focus on the important points of the conversation. You may be tempted to preemptively provide an answer to a question or statement the individual is making, before they even ask it. This can not only demonstrate to the person that you are not fully listening, but can also show that you are not in tune with what isn’t being said at that exact moment. Read between the lines, though you are not always correct to point out verbally what you see and believe early on in the conversation. The best therapists and counselors will advise you that most successful clients have “figured out” and worked through their own issues of struggle through discussion and verbally walking through the obstacles they face vs. being told what the solutions are. They are asked questions which guide them to thoughts they have not yet thought, or goals they have not yet set, or targets they have not yet identified. This first step in helping the individual is listening to both the words being said, as well as what is not being said.