Reflective Listening - Lawyers Assistance Program of British Columbia

Reflective Listening
Lawyers Assistance
Facilitated by Robert Bircher
Reflective Listening
• This is a core communication skill and
to be a great communicator you must
master it
• It involves tracking the thoughts and
feelings of another in an unbiased and
unaltered form and reflecting them
back to another accurately
• The problem is most people are not
listening at all-they are thinking up
their response to the other person
• This becomes particularly acute if it is
a conflict situation
Reflective Listening
• For example if you are hanging a
picture and your partner says
“why are you doing it that way,
you are so incompetent !” most
people would be too busy thinking
“how dare you criticize me! If you
think I am so incompetent do it
yourself, what a bitch/bastard you
• This is reacting not listening
• Your ego wants to defend itself
and usually attack back!
Reflective Listening
• Reflecting what is going on for
the other person is lost in the
• A refection would be “it sounds
like you think I am doing this
poorly and are angry with me”
• This is simply trying to
understand what is going on for
the other person-not problem
solving or defending yourselfwhich most people immediately
jump to
Reflective Listening
• The reason it is so critical is that
problem solving or
communication cannot proceed
without understanding each other
• It is simply the first and most
basic step in communication
• It is not just parroting and
repeating back-it is
nonjudgmental understanding of
the other
Reflective Listening
• The trick to it is to turn off the
part of your mind that wants to
judge or comment on what the
other person says-this is not easy!
• It is just making sure you
understand what thoughts and
feelings the other person hasnothing more-nothing added or
taken away
• Make sure you know the
difference between thought and
Thoughts and Feelings
• Feelings are a result of cognitions and are a
body sensation-anger, fear, sadness etc. You
cannot have a feeling -without a thought or
series of thoughts preceding it-these may or
may not be conscious-often they are stories
from the past-E.g. you see a cat that reminds
you of your old pet “fluffy” who was hit by a
car and killed when you were 7-so you feel
sad even though on the surface there is
nothing to be sad about-you are just watching
a cat!
• What people call “thinking” is internal
monologues and dialogues-you are always
“talking to yourself”
Thoughts and Feelings
• “Thinking” (cognition) are stories you tell
yourself about reality (interpretations) in the
form of symbols(language)-thought always
precedes feeling
• Using the word “feeling” does not necessarily
mean it is a feeling “I feel you are hanging
that picture wrong” is a thought as is “I feel
you are treating me badly”
• Feelings are bodily reactions to your thoughts
and are usually one or two words-more than
that is usually a thought “ I am angry ”- is a
feeling-whereas “ I feel so stupid’ is a thought
(a judgment) about yourself
• Sometimes it can be both: ”It feels like you
are putting me down” is a judgment and a
Practicing Reflective
• The best way to learn reflective
listening is to practice it
• Exercise-How to do it: one person is
the talker the other the listener, sit in a
dyad. Pick a topic that has thoughts and
feelings i.e. my relationship with my
mother or father is a good one
• Speak in short sentences because the
listener must accurately reflect what is
being said by the talker and it is hard to
remember a long story
Practising Reflective
• You are only listening and
understanding not adding anything or
interpreting anything-it is not a
dialogue or conversation
• EG- Speaker-“my mom liked to make
clothes and I treasure the things she
made for me before she passed away”
–listener “ That’s an amazing
coincidence, my mom also loved
sewing, although she wasn’t very good
at it”
• This is not reflective-this is the
listeners own story-it is reacting and
interpreting not listening
Practising Reflective
• A reflection would be “it seems your
mom liked the process of making
clothes and you are very attached to
what she made for you, especially
since she is now gone”
• You are simply reflecting back what
they said to get an accurate
understanding of where they are at
• What is the purpose of this? it is the
first and most important step to any
communication or conflict resolution-if
you skip this step further resolution is
difficult or impossible
• It is critical for connection
Practice Tips
• At first you will sound like a “broken
record” or “a parrot” don’t worry about
that- with practice it will become
• The most difficult part is shutting off
your own noisy mind long enough to
actually listen-it may seem tedious –it
is-Truly listening is hard work,
especially if you disagree with or have
an opinion about what the person is
talking about
• Lets try it for a about 5 minutes each