- 1 Understanding the client’s idea, then offering the concept back to the speaker confirms the idea has been understood correctly. Reflecting does not suggest agreement with the speaker, and it does invite the person to speak freely.
- 1. Mirroring the mood of the speaker, reflecting the emotional state with words and nonverbal communication. This calls for the listener to quiet his mind and fully focus on the mood of the speaker. The mood will be apparent not just in the words used but in the tone of voice, in the posture and other nonverbal cues given by the speaker.The listener will look for congruence.
The main principles of reflective listening
Listen more than you talk.
Deal with personal specifics, not impersonal generalities.
Decipher the feelings behind the words, to create a better understanding of the issues.
Restate and clarify what you have heard.
Respond with acceptance and empathy
Understand the speaker’s frame of reference and avoid responding from your own frame of reference. (Frame of reference means the views a person has on an issue based on their own subjective experience of it.)
Dealing with personal specifics means that the listener chooses to explore the effects on the speaker. If someone is worried that they may be about to lose their job, the focus on that person’s fears first. What reflective listening provides, is the chance to let the concerned person express their fears to another human being.
Emotion is normally the first focus of reflective listening.
When the listener responds on a personal level, the conversation remains at the level the speaker intended. This allows them to further explore their feelings, improve their understanding of the situation, and perhaps attain a healthier attitude.
Reflective listening is concerned with responding through mirroring, which underpins all effective communication. It is not about leading the speaker in a direction chosen by the listener because the listener believes this to be the best course of action based on their own frame of reference. The responsive listener addresses those matters that your client is currently discussing.
The reflective listener must evaluate not just the words spoken, but all the emotion conveyed through voice tone–strong, soft, loud, timid
- quality of speech – hesitant, blundering, bold, assertive
- their body language – tense or relaxed
- facial expressions – stressed, relaxed, eyes bright, eyes dull, smiling, brow furrowed, eyes moving left or right, or staring off.
All this will provide the best interpretation of the speaker’s true emotional state. When a person feels that they are understood at an emotional level, that’s the moment when they feel they are truly understood.
Always remember that the emotion you read in a person’s expression may be completely at odds with the content of their spoken message. Content refers to the ideas, reasons, theories, assumptions, and descriptions that are expressed verbally by the speaker.
It is vital to learn to think reflectively. This is a way of thinking that accompanies good reflective listening that includes interest in what the person has to say and respect for the person’s inner wisdom. Its key element is a hypothesis testing approach to listening. What you think the person means may not be what they really mean.
Listening breakdowns occur in any of three places:
• Speaker does not say what is meant
• Listener does not hear correctly
• Listener gives a different interpretation to what the words mean
Since many people do not state their emotions explicitly within such content, the listener will need to respond to the implicit emotional tone. A simple example would be if you asked how a friend was doing, and they responded in a monotone and with pain in their eyes: “I’m doing great”. Which message would you take as real?
The reflective listener responds to the evident sadness and distress in their friend. This is a crucial skill to master: the ability and willingness to confront negative emotions and deal with them constructively. This may involve the listener in a long conversation and responding from your own frame of reference: “You know that the last time I saw you look so miserable, something terrible had happened, so I assume that must be the case now.
“I am okay,” the client says.
The only way to establish the deeper emotion you sense would be to respond with a gentle challenge: “Are you sure you’re feeling all right? You look like you’re suffering.”
Reflective listening is meant to close the loop in communication to ensure breakdowns don’t occur whether through a challenge, paraphrasing, or mirroring the feelings.
Download the Coaching Tool- Reflective listening
© 2013 Dr. Caron Goode