Reflective Listening – Part 1

Reflective Listening – Part 1

Reflective listening refers to the final point made above, and it deserves a separate chapter because it concerns how the listener deals with what they have heard. This is what makes or breaks the art of communication.

The four components of active listening – acceptance, empathy, honesty and specifics – all work towards creating reflective responses in the listener.

The main principles of reflective listening are:

  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • Respond with acceptance and empathy, not coldly or with fake concern.

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 should be firstly on that person’s fears, not on the current state of the job market. The speaker will no doubt have already researched the facts and figures and probabilities, and will have heard a hundred times from well-meaning individuals that their job may not be lost. What is required in this case, and what reflective listening provides, is the chance to let the concerned person express their fears to another human being. This is often the primary reason for talking.

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. There is no point in the listener saying: “Don’t worry, I’m sure it won’t happen.”

This is an empty platitude that reveals the listener has not even slightly grasped the reason the speaker opened up. Telling a worried person not to worry is tantamount to ending the conversation there and then. It is dismissive of the real problem, which is the speaker’s emotional reaction to the situation. This is particularly damaging when it has been such a huge step to reveal those emotions in the first place.

 

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