Normal listening means to hear another person’s words and to understand what they are saying from their perspective with the interpretation of their thoughts and feelings. Reflective listening is a special type of listening where the listener pays respectful attention to the content and feelings, but, in addition to hearing and understanding, he or she lets the other person know that they are understood. It requires responding actively to the other person to clarify and confirm the meaning of the message. As such, the listener reflects back the content, thoughts and feelings, the tone of voice, body posture, and gestures of the speaker.
The following steps are followed when listening reflectively to someone:
- Make the time available and eliminate distractions.
- Establish eye contact and a positive body posture.
- Hear what the person is saying by listening to their words, the tone of voice, observe their facial expressions, body language, and behavior in the context of the situation and available in-formation.
- Deduce from your interpretation why they are feeling what they are feeling.
- Repeat one or two keywords and paraphrase the meaning of what you have heard/observed.
- State the feeling and reason for the feelings to clarify your assumptions and make a connection, e.g. “You feel sad because you did not score well on the test.”
- Take things forward by making reflective listening an everyday habit.
These are some guidelines how to improve your reflective listening skills. If you stay aware of it during conversations and practice it often you will soon notice an improvement in the quality of your communication. Ten to one your relationship will strengthen and you will have a greater positive impact on the other person.
The first exercise in this session is a short self-evaluation of your reflective listening skills, which aims to highlight areas where you need more practice. A second exercise is provided, which is a form for evaluating your reflective listening behavior after a communication session. It helps point out behaviors that require focus in future conversations.