However good you think your listening skills are, the only person who can tell you if you have understood correctly or not is the speaker. Therefore, as an extension of good listening skills, you need to develop the ability to reflect words and feelings and to clarify that you have understood them correctly. It is often important that you and the speaker agree that what you understand is a true representation of what was meant to be said.
As well as understanding and reflecting the verbal messages of the speaker it is important to try to understand the emotions - this lesson explains how to use reflection effectively to help you build greater understanding of not only what is being said but the content, feeling and meaning of messages.
Reflecting is the process of paraphrasing and restating both the feelings and words of the speaker.
The purposes of reflecting are:
Reflecting does not involve you asking questions, introducing a new topic or leading the conversation in another direction. Speakers are helped through reflecting as it not only allows them to feel understood, but it also gives them the opportunity to focus their ideas. This in turn helps them to direct their thoughts and further encourages them to continue speaking.
Mirroring is a simple form of reflecting and involves repeating almost exactly what the speaker says.
Mirroring should be short and simple. It is usually enough to just repeat key words or the last few words spoken. This shows you are trying to understand the speakers terms of reference and acts as a prompt for him or her to continue. Be aware not to over mirror as this can become irritating and therefore a distraction from the message.
Paraphrasing involves using other words to reflect what the speaker has said. Paraphrasing shows not only that you are listening, but that you are attempting to understand what the speaker is saying.
It is often the case that people 'hear what they expect to hear' due to assumptions, stereotyping or prejudices. When paraphrasing, it is of utmost importance that you do not introduce your own ideas or question the speakers thoughts, feelings or actions. Your responses should be non-directive and non-judgemental.
It is very difficult to resist the temptation to ask questions and when this technique is first used, reflecting can seem very stilted and unnatural. You need to practice this skill in order to feel comfortable.
A skilled listener will be able to reflect a speaker's feelings from body cues (non-verbal) as well as verbal messages. It is sometimes not appropriate to ask such direct questions as “How does that make you feel?” Strong emotions such as love and hate are easy to identify, whereas feelings such as affection, guilt and confusion are much more subtle. The listener must have the ability to identify such feelings both from the words and the non-verbal cues, for example body language, tone of voice, etc.
As well as considering which emotions the speaker is feeling, the listener needs to reflect the degree of intensity of these emotions.
“You feel a little bit sad/angry?”
“You feel quite helpless/depressed?”
“You feel very stressed?”
“You feel extremely embarrassed?”
Reflecting needs to combine content and feeling to truly reflect the meaning of what the speaker has said.
Speaker: “I just don't understand my boss. One minute he says one thing and the next minute he says the opposite.”
Listener: “You feel very confused by him?”
Reflecting meaning allows the listener to reflect the speaker's experiences and emotional response to those experiences. It links the content and feeling components of what the speaker has said.
In this lesson you learnt about reflecting and how important it is in the workplace.
In the proceeding lesson you will learn what is clarifying and how you can use it.
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