Communicator (communicator) wrote,

Reflective listening

I was with someone just now who was very upset about something and needed to talk. In that situation I might do 'reflective listening'. I know it sounds sort of funny to use a method, but I think it can help in the right circumstances.

The theory of reflective listening is that people don't always need advice, what they need is to know that somebody hears them. So in reflective listening you respond to what they say, but you don't add anything to it. So if the person says 'Everybody hates me', you don't jump in (which I normally would) with 'No they don't, I like you, and loads of other people do... blah blah..' Instead you just reflect back what they said. You might just say 'I hear you' or 'You feel like everybody hates you'

It's hard for me, who always likes to jump in and start putting the world to rights, to hold back like that. And also, when you do it, you think the other person is going to laugh at you, or say 'why are you just repeating back at me what I just said.' The point is that - if the time is right for reflective listening - they don't do that. It's amazing but they don't.

"you’ll find that even bad attempts tend to produce immediate results, maybe because most people rarely have the experience of being listened to in this way."

And they might feel able to tone down what they are saying, because they are no longer having to shout to be heard. And - this is the theory - once they calm down enough to think clearly they have a better understanding of their own problem than you could ever come up with. So it goes like this...

(Fictionalised version)
'Everybody hates me.'
'You feel like everybody hates you.'
'Well, everyone at the office.'
'You feel like everyone at the office hates you.'
'There's this guy and he's made up a story about me and... ' etc. etc.

Obviously it's a crap technique if the person actually does want some advice, or wants to hear your opinion. But you have to spot that of course. It's not some kind of robotic system. But at the right time it is a powerful way of listening I think.

I've just given a sort of absurdly potted version of reflective listening - follow the link above if you want a much better description. If you think it sounds stupid, that's a defect in my description more likely than not.
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