Without a doubt one of the most important skills in peer support is “listening.”
With that being said listening, for the most part is a highly unnatural act for most people. Active listening is a highly complex skill set that has four basic parts.
1) Being open and unbiased
2) Hearing literally
3) Interpreting the information heard
4) Acting on that information.
Its also a skill that needs to be practiced.
In Peer Employment Training (PET) we are taught to listen to each other, without interrupting or judging.
Granted there are situations where you have to be with people who are inherently difficult or who are expressing anger – this is part of the job. It goes with the territory so to speak.
You have to learn to be patient in those types of situations. Listening is a major part of that.
This l know is difficult.
I have actually seen peer support specialist fail at it! Even going so far as to get angry and yell at the peer they are supporting.
In fact this has actually happened to me, as the person receiving peer support services, and l can tell you it hurts a lot!
This happened when l challenged the “relationship” by calling that person out for forgetting about our scheduled appointment, not sending me an email with information l needed and my peer support promised to send me.
In peer support “we always” keep our word to those peers we are supporting! No matter what! And when we make a mistake we admit it and apologize.
In this particular case it came down to an issue of lack of respect and mutuality, that ended up destroying a relationship some 10 months in the making.
It culminated in that peer support specialist actually quitting on me, as the peer she was supporting – which is totally unheard of.
You sometimes have peers quitting on their peer support specialists but never a peer support specialist quitting on the peer they are supporting.
Making matters worse instead of taking a break, coming back and being honest in admitting this wasn’t working out, the peer support specialist went to the site administrator and complained on me.
In this case my peer support also played the victim, putting me in a difficult position of having to defend myself in as room full of people, that included my case manager and members of my clinical team.
It was actually the darnest thing I’ve ever seen, but these kind of things happen in the real world.
The saddest part was that it was totally unnecessary to begin with. It also damaged everyone involved.
For one a peer support specialist was allowed to quit on the peer she was supporting – which is a failure on her part, not mine.
Second it robbed me of valuable peer support services I needed. And third it robbed the clinic of billable hours from someone still willing to sit down and receive that service through them, with a different peer support person.
In the end everyone lost out in that deal!
With that being said I also bear some responsibility in this matter. Perhaps if I was more patient or supporting it might not have blow up so badly.
When l look back l see that what was needed here was more effective listening and patience on the part of the peer support specialist.
In Peer Employment Training (PET) communication starts with effective listening. It one of the key principle involved in being in a relationship with a peer your supporting.
It also taught me an important lesson in peer support, one that l was able to learn from. Namely how critically important listening is in communications.
I also learned that you should never assume people are open and ready to listen. Lastly, I learned a simple truth: “People hardly ever say what they mean.” And if you react to what they say, you made your first critical mistake. Again never react to what they say. React to what they mean.
While this situation was difficult I feel I am a better person for it because I learned value lessons on how important listening really is in communication.
See video: What skills are needed for Peer support http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjzoiapOYvc
See Peer Support Perspectives Promoting recovery http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDW6znQB76E
See video: Peer Recovery Support: Leveraging Personal experience http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zcRXzVjaOM
See also video: Peer Support Specialists http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJAOwR_kN6U