Experts agree that communication is essential to successful relationships, but they also promote one powerful communication tool that can be used to foster good relations with a partner, family, friends, and coworkers.
This tool is called ‘reflective listening‘, which is, significantly, an important skill that every therapist needs to excel at their job.
In reflective listening, the listener tries to understand the speaker’s idea and then communicates it back to confirm that it was understood correctly. Rather than provide a response, the listener is tasked with reflecting the speaker’s ideas and feelings as accurately as possible.
Reflective listening can help improve understanding of other people’s ideas, issues, approaches, and concerns, and is particularly useful in preventing conflict in a group. It can help save relationships from disaster not by solving the problem but by making everyone feel validated and heard.
If done right, then everyone will feel that their thoughts and feelings are understood, and opinions are respected. This will help contending parties better resolve issues and ensure that minor arguments do not turn into major fights.
There are two main techniques for practicing reflective listening, which are mirroring and paraphrasing. Mirroring involves repeating key phrases back to the speaker (such as this exchange: “I’m really upset that I missed my bus this morning.” “You missed your bus.”)
Paraphrasing, on the other hand, involves repeating a rephrased version of what they’ve said (for instance: “I’m really upset I missed my bus this morning.” “You were upset about being late.”)
In essence, the listener tries to clarify and restate what the other person is saying in reflective listening. This can help the listener better understand the other person and help the other person clarify their thoughts. This also shows that someone is willing to listen to their point and view, and better articulate their thoughts and emotions.
Reflective listening is a valuable skill that seems quite easy, but it takes practice and skill to do well. The four main steps involved in reflective listening are:
Listen to the speaker’s message. Find a quiet place that is conducive to a serious conversation. Don’t let your mind wander and make a conscious effort to focus on what the other person has to say. Maintain eye contact and do not interrupt the speaker.
Avoid making strong reactions since you are trying to understand them from their perspective. Also, focus on verbal and non-verbal cues since they are likely to be an integral part of the message.
Analyze the meaning of the speaker’s message. Note the speaker’s context and feelings. What does the speaker mean to transmit? Avoid making judgments and instead focus on understanding the message.
Do not let your opinions influence the analysis to make sure that you properly understand the speaker’s ideas. If some messages are unclear, ask the speaker to explain further.
Reflect the message back to the speaker. Confirm that your interpretation of the speaker’s message is the same as what the speaker intended to transmit.
Make the necessary corrections. The speaker may either confirm your understanding of the message or make a correction by further explaining their point of view.
Speaking out is not easy for everyone, so thank the speaker for sharing their thoughts and feelings. Let them know that you appreciate having a better understanding of their perspective. Unless asked, it is also important that the listener refrain from offering advice.
Reflective listening is not about providing advice or tackling the problem. Instead, the listener should acknowledge issues and concerns, and encourage the speaker to find solutions on their own.
Again, reflective listening seems deceptively easy, but it takes some skill to let others discuss their innermost thoughts without judgment or prejudice from others. But armed with the right tools, you can help someone unpack and discuss their challenges. This can help resolve strains in relationships and ultimately strengthen connections.