As we all know, it is very possible for two well-meaning individuals trying their best to get their message across to miss the mark entirely and create a whole new situation than what was initially intended.
Whenever we communicate, there’s a huge gap in which our message could be lost in translation, tainted by outside factors beyond our control, or misconstrued because of the listener’s background, experiences, or personally held beliefs.
The effectiveness of our communication efforts, the feeling of being heard and understood as well as the ability to avoid, defuse or resolve conflicts are all hinged on how well the parties involved are listening to each other.
Beyond just hearing the words that are being said, we need to be able to interpret them exactly as they were intended, without any bias or defensiveness on our part as the recipients of the message.
This is where reflective listening comes in.
Reflective Listening is a technique developed by Carl Rogers, an American psychologist whose work was built around person-centered research that sought to understand individual personality and human relationships.
The communication strategy requires that when you listen to someone, you endeavor to put their core message into your own words, and then repeat it to them, to verify that you have indeed understood it correctly.
It gives the speaker a chance to clarify their message and clear out any misunderstandings, and also put more thought into what they are saying and how it is coming across. This is especially useful in an emotionally charged situation where someone may be trying to process how they feel in the moment and communicate it at the same time.
Translating their concerns into your own words will signal that you are attentive and willing to meet them where they are and if your interpretation is off base, they will instinctively clarify what they meant, to help you both get back on track.
The key is trusting that the speaker is fully capable of expressing themselves and inviting them to do so while resisting the all-too-human urge to fill in the gaps with our own perceptions and jump into misguided conclusions.
When practicing reflective listening, it is important that you do not send a message of your own such as giving advice, asking questions, offering solutions, telling your own story or any other input that is not coming from the speaker.
Your job in that moment is to summarize and clarify. Seek to understand, to the best of your ability, what the sender is trying to communicate. You can ask questions to confirm their emotional state or the information being relayed, but try to desist from asking questions that will steer the conversation away from the current topic of conversation, until you both agree that you’re on the same page about a given situation.
Before you react or respond to anything anybody says, take a moment to check in with them, to confirm without a doubt that what you heard is in fact what they said and meant.