Ask open questions, for example:
‘How long has this been going on?’
‘Has this been going on a long time?’
That way, instead of closing the conversation down into a yes or no response, you open it out and encourage the other person to keep talking.
It helps to show that you’ve listened to, and understood, what’s been said.
You can do this by summarising.
‘So you’re being treated terribly by your partner, but you still love them?’
Repeating back a word or phrase can encourage people to go on talking.
If someone says:
‘It’s been really difficult recently’
you can keep the conversation going by reflecting on this and saying:
‘It sounds like it’s been really difficult.’
We all gloss over the most difficult things. If the person you’re speaking with avoids an important point, try saying:
‘Tell me more about…’
‘…sounds a difficult area for you’.
This can help them clarify the points, not only for you, but for themselves.
You don’t have to be completely neutral.
If whoever you’re talking with has been having an absolutely dreadful time, some sympathy and understanding is vital.
‘That must have been difficult’
‘You’ve had an awful time’
can be helpful things to say.