Reflective Listening – Part 2
Reflective listening is concerned with responding, 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 the speaker is currently discussing.
However, the reflective listener must evaluate not just the words spoken, but all that the speaker is conveying through their body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. 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. 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 would respond 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, where a simple “Don’t worry!” would not. However, unless those underlying negative emotions are dealt with, then although the initial listening may have been actively performed, it can still be ruined by a lack of reflection.
This does not mean that assumptions should be made; this is responding from your own frame of reference. You know that the last time you looked so miserable, something terrible had happened, so you assume that must be the case now. The friend in question may indeed be doing great; they may just have gone over on their ankle and be in a little pain at that precise moment. The only way to establish the truth would be to respond with a gentle challenge: “Are you sure you’re feeling all right? You look like you’re suffering.”
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