As part of our Influencing/Team Engagement workshop we often discuss reflective listening and do a small related exercise. I’ve always been wary of making a big deal of it because I assumed, wrongly as it turns out, that reflective listening was so widely taught that most people would be pretty familiar with it.
Given that it’s more of a revelation to many people than I expected, I thought I’d check around the internet for a nice piece on the topic and thought that Wikipedia’s article was so simple and succinct that I couldn’t really go past it. So the link and article are both below for those who are keen to clarify the point and process of reflective listening.
If you’d like to learn more still, the book ‘People Skills’ by Robert Bolton (http://www.amazon.com/People-Skills-Yourself-Resolve-Conflicts/dp/067162248X#reader_067162248X) not only devotes several chapters to this critical skill, but also explores how powerfully reflective listening can be used in a conflict management situation. Really great stuff!!
Reflective listening is a communication strategy involving two key steps: seeking to understand a speaker's idea, then offering the idea back to the speaker, to confirm the idea has been understood correctly. It attempts to "reconstruct what the client is thinking and feeling and to relay this understanding back to the client". Reflective listening is a more specific strategy than the more general methods of active listening. It arose from Carl Rogers' school of client-centered therapy in counselling theory.
Dalmar Fisher, an Associate Professor at Boston College, developed a model for Reflective Listening that includes the following elements.
– Actively engaging in the conversation, by reducing or eliminating distractions of any kind to allow for paying full attention to the conversation at hand.
– Genuinely empathizing with the speaker’s point of view. This doesn’t mean agreeing with the speaker, just viewing things from his/her perspective. The listener encourages the person to speak freely, by being non judgmental and empathetic.
– 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 between words and mood.
– Summarizing what the speaker said, using the listener’s own words. This is different than paraphrasing, where words and phrases are moved around and replaced to mirror what the speaker said. The reflective listener recaps the message using his own words.
– Responding to the speaker's specific point, without digressing to other subjects.
– Repeating the procedure for each subject, and switching the roles of speaker and listener, if necessary.