How To Reflect (Active Listening)

Thank you for taking a look at how to reflect. This matter seems critical in our social-media induced, show-and-tell style of relating.  Show-and-tell makes for an excellent teaching tool for kindergarten and 1st-grade teaching!  Now let’s learn something for grown-ups! A lot of people call this “active listening,” but I prefer the term ‘reflecting’.  When you reflect you want to start with the emotion and optionally include the content, let’s take a look.

Keep it Simple: Reflect the Emmotion! If Nothing Else.

How to Reflect in 3 Easy Steps

Take a deep breath, we will temporarily silence the inner-talk. What does it mean to listen?

Step 1) Stay silent, and collect emotional clues from the speaker. Watch their facial expressions and listen for their vocal tone.  Look for clues that hint how the speaker feels.

Step 2) Paraphrase emotions and summarize content back to the speaker.  Often you can start your statement with “You feel…” (sad, exhausted, relieved, stressed, etc.)

Step 3) Allow conversational space for any clarifications or acknowledgment.

You want to get on the same page with someone, so repeat the reflecting process until you feel confident that your impression and what the speaker intends match!

Try Not To Send Advice or Interrupt

Avoid A) Sending Advice.

Avoid B) Interrupting.

Extra Credit: Reflect in E-prime

If you have the skill to do so, then reflect in E-prime.  When you don’t quite feel confident about your fluency in E-prime, then using computer chat can give you the extra time and ability to edit your statements into E-prime before submission.  If you need technical support to set up a private chat, then please contact us.

Avoid These Common Traps When Listening

1) No Sending Advice – Avoid the temptation to offer a solution no matter how obvious it appears as an answer to the speaker’s concerns. Instead, paraphrase and reply with the emotion you notice followed by echoing some details about ‘what’ they wish to express (see 3 Easy Steps above). You could frame this process as a game of leading them to their own best advice. Now you can find solutions together without contaminating their unique perspective.  Of course, old habits die hard, so if you slip up, and start officiating unsolicited advice, make sure to call yourself out!  Sending advice doesn’t go away overnight!

2) No Interrupting – Finding the right words to express feelings and conditions can take a little time. Try not to rush the speaker by finishing their statements, or start interrupting if they go too slow for you. Give them the patience you would enjoy if you reverse roles. You’ll get rewarded when the conversation shifts focus.

This one may get very challenging at times since contemporary culture demands an accelerating pace.  Consider though: Haste makes waste.  It could cost you triple or quadruple time if rushing leads to an accident.  While we mostly all agree to this in theory, does it actually allow us permission to slow down?  Let’s embrace pacing ourselves as the ultimate efficiency.  The evidence suggests that pacing oneself improves performance quite a bit.  Instead of rushing to get the most out of every moment, we can actually get better returns by, taking scheduled breaks.  When you start a listening session, start a timer too!  You don’t want listening fatigue!

How to Reflect Over Coffee

How to Reflect, Not Just Listen in 3 Explained Steps

It sometimes helps to take a deep breath as preparation for reflecting.  Also since we don’t need opinions for reflecting please pause all judgments temporarily.

Step 1) Pause thinking while you collect comments from the speaker. Avoid the temptation to prepare your next comment, this takes firm resolve at first. Give yourself time to warm up to the idea of hearing without contemplating a response.  You don’t need to roleplay their experiences or visualize yourself in their shoes.  Just see if you notice any specific emotions via tone or facial expressions.  Often you don’t need to pay attention that closely.  Ever watch muted television?  You can see emotions even without words.  Surprise!

Step 2) When the timing feels appropriate, paraphrase the comments indicating first the emotional character and secondly summarize the content. Remember to focus on reporting emotions since that often takes second place to the details. Sometimes, you don’t even need the later.

Step 3) Allow conversational space for the speaker to reply. A reply will require some contemplation before they will return dialogue. Pausing gives the respondent ample time to cue a response. If you get too impatient here, you might accidentally interrupt them. If that happens, call yourself out and do it over.

Repeat Step 1 through 3 as necessary to allow the speaker to finish expressing their concerns.  Set a time limit of 45 minutes, or you could find yourself depleted.