Learning how to have effective conversations with vulnerable people (and why it’s important)

Emma Davis

Recently I attended an online training day on conversations with vulnerable people, along with the other Lagom User Researchers.

The course was run by Samaritans and aimed to equip us with the skills we would need to have supportive and effective conversations with emotionally vulnerable people. 

A number of factors might make a person vulnerable, including severe or long-term illness, mental health problems, financial worries, bereavement, caring responsibilities, and many others and the effect can be cumulative if someone is experiencing more than one of these. 

Although these kinds of conversations don’t come up very regularly in the projects we work on, when they do, they can be difficult to navigate and the potential impact is serious. 

As well as helping us identify signs of vulnerability and giving us tools to help assess emotional health in ourselves and others, we also got to practise active listening skills, using the Samaritans’ ‘listening wheel’. 

These skills can be usefully applied to any of the conversations we have during our user research activities (and outside of these activities too). 

It was reassuring that we use most of them already but I found it useful to have a framework to break down these skills and to have the chance to practise some of the ones that come less naturally to me. 

One of the things that struck me about the course was the range of roles and workplaces represented by the attendees, all there because they have, or anticipate having, conversations with vulnerable people whilst at work. 

I think it demonstrates that these conversations can come up in a whole range of different situations – that many people across all walks of life may be vulnerable at some point and having the skills to have these difficult conversations is important.

Although I think, by their nature, these conversations will always be tough, I definitely feel better prepared having attended this course and better able to recognise situations where I can apply what I’ve learnt in both my professional and personal life. 

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