Reflection is a technique that demonstrates that you are listening to the feelings that a speaker describes. Listening to how a person feels and being able to convey what you hear are two different things. The ability to reflect a person’s feelings can be vital to their sense of being understood. In particular, a person in distress may wish to talk about their feelings, rather than facts and information. Especially at the start of a conversation, a person may not need someone to problem solve with them and to do so too quickly can make them feel like they are not being heard.
Reflection involves the ability to paraphrase or reflect feelings back to a speaker as you understand them. It encourages people to experience and explore their feelings about any situation. It also allows the speaker to lead the conversation in a direction in which they are comfortable. As a listener, reflective statements help you better understand the perspective from which a speaker is approaching any issue and clarify areas of confusion.
- It sounds like…
- It seems as if…
- I hear you saying…
- I wonder if…
- I get a sense that…
- It feels as if…
- Sounds to me like…
- Am I right in thinking…
- You sound worried about…
- Do you mean that you’re upset because…
Open-ended questions are useful tools to help someone explore an issue without making them feel interrogated or forcing them to reveal more about a situation than they wish. Unlike closed-ended question, which restrict responses to a limited number of answers (like yes/no questions), open-ended questions allow the person the freedom to respond in any way they choose.
Open-ended questions like “how is that for you” or “where would you like to begin” can encourage someone to talk and can help focus specific concerns and feelings.
Questions that begin with “what” or “how” are useful because they can help a speaker expand upon their thinking about an issue. However, be careful that you don’t ask a question they have already answered. Avoid asking “why” questions because they can convey judgement. The word “why” tends to imply wrong-doing, a mistake or guilt on the part of the speaker and may well force a person to respond defensively. It can also lead the speaker into a course of action that they have not freely chosen because of subtle suggestions or advice-giving.
Examples of open-ended questions
- Would you like to tell me more about this?
- How are you feeling right now?
- How do you feel about it now?
- Can you tell me what this means to you?
- How would you like things to be?
- What do you imagine might happen?
- What have you thought of?
- How do you see things changing?
- What would you like to do about…?
- What’s that like?
- What’s most important to you now?
You ARE listening when…
- You really try to understand where I’m coming from when I do not make much sense.
- You grasp my point of view even when it differs markedly from yours.
- You realize that the time we spent talking has left you a bit tired and drained.
- You allow me the dignity of making my own decisions, even if you think they are wrong.
- You give me enough room to discover for myself why I feel the way I do and enough time to decide for myself what is best.
- You did not take my problem from me (saving) but trusted me to deal with it in my own way (empowering).
- You held back your desire to give me good advice.
- You accepted my gift of gratitude by telling me it was good to know our conversation was helpful.
You are NOT listening when…
- You say you understand before you know me well enough.
- You have an answer for my problem before you have let me finish speaking.
- You interrupt me.
- You finish my sentence for me.
- You are communicating with someone else in the room or are otherwise distracted.
- You are trying to sort out all the details and are not listening to the feelings behind the words.
- You sense my problem is embarrassing and avoid it.
- You tell me about your experience and make mine seem unimportant.
- You refuse my thanks by saying you haven’t done anything.