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Reflective Listening

1. Some tips on Reflective Listening to help you really engage with people

Reflection is simply repeating back to someone what you understand they have said to you. It shows the speaker that you are listening, and hearing what is being said, and it lets them know what you have understood.

Reflective listening is a useful tool to

 -  steer a conversation in the direction that you are interested

-   gain more information in a non-threatening way and

-   build rapport.

We can reflect back:

-  The FACTS of what was said

-  The THOUGHTS that we believe were behind the facts

-  The FEELINGS we think were behind the thoughts

Each of the three different types of reflection will have a different effect.


Choosing one point that the speaker has said, and reflecting it back will encourage the speaker to say more about that particular fact. For instance, in a recruitment interview where the candidate has been telling you about a disciplinary matter they were involved with, you might reflect back “so, you led the investigation.” This will probably lead to the candidate saying more about the way they led the investigation.

Paraphrasing the gist of what the speaker said is a way of “wrapping up” that part of the conversation before moving on to another area. It is a way of directing the conversation, while letting the speaker know what you understand from what they have said to you so far. It gives them a chance to correct any misinterpretations.

Also, if the speaker is getting carried away with feelings about the event, reflecting back some facts will bring them back to logic. They will have to stop and think about your reflection.


If you want to develop rapport with the speaker you can reflect back your interpretation of the thoughts behind the facts, or actions, being described. You might say, for instance, “It sounds as if you thought that was wrong.” This lets the speaker know that you are interested in more than just the facts or their behaviour, and tells them the interpretation you are taking away. It gives them a chance to correct your interpretation if it is inaccurate, avoids misunderstandings, and builds trust.


It can be very useful to reflect back your interpretation of someone’s feelings. Talking about feelings can move the relationship on to a different level.

If you reflect back, “It sounds as if you were quite angry about that,” it will encourage the speaker to think about their feelings. This can be useful to help them manage their feelings if they are getting in the way of the conversation. Expressing the feelings in this safe way can go some way towards helping the person to release them. Acknowledging and owning feelings allows people to take responsibility for their feelings. It means that the listener can remain objective and not get involved in the emotions of the situation.

Sometimes people repeat an emotional story several times. Reflecting the feelings back to them shows empathy by showing that the feelings have been heard and acknowledged. The speaker no longer has to repeat their story. They can begin to move on as their need to have their feelings heard and recognised has been met.

As with reflecting thoughts, reflecting feelings gives the speaker the opportunity to correct the impression that the listener has taken away if it is incorrect. It means that assumptions can be checked out.

Reflecting rather than telling
It can feel like aggression if someone tells us what we are thinking or feeling, and might provoke defensive behaviour. It is a good idea to use phrases such as “it sounds as if” or “it looks like” when reflecting thoughts and feelings. This tells the speaker that it is only the listener’s interpretation, i.e. what they think the speaker’s thoughts and feelings might be. It shows respect for the person.

Reflective listening can be a useful tool for steering a conversation, building rapport, checking perceptions, and managing emotions. It can help the listener listen and understand, and let the speaker know that they have been heard.

Being Positive & Confident - 3 part statements

Positive and confident statements express clearly what we feel, think or want without transgressing the other person's rights.  In other words, we don't manipulate or impose, but allow and encourage the other person to express themselves.  We take responsibility for ourselves and expect others to do the same.

 A 3 part statement encapsulates these principles:

1.    "I" statement - I would like, I think, I feel, I am not sure, I don't know, I believe,

2.    The reason - "because …" "when you …"  "as …"

3.    Question - "what do you think?" "is that o.k.?" "how about you?" "When can we                           do it?" “what else have you tried?” “will tomorrow suit you?”

 Here are some examples:

·         I'd like to discuss the budget with you tomorrow because I'm away at the end of the week.  Could we meet at 2.00 o'clock?

·         I feel quite angry about the way you spoke to the production team. I thought it was disrespectful.  Why did you do it?

·         I felt stupid when you didn't turn up to the meeting yesterday as I'd told everyone you were coming.  Next time, would it be possible for you to let me know if you're not coming?

·         I think we need to tighten up on our stationary allocation because we're 10% over budget already.  What do you think?

Notice that the question at the end invites the other person to speak.  You will choose how open or closed you will make the question.  This will depend upon the circumstances, but if it is inappropriately closed it will feel aggressive.

3 part statements work best when the order given above is followed.  We begin by taking responsibility and finish by asking the other person to express their view.  It is also important that the statements are kept brief; it is only necessary to give one reason.  If the statements are too long they begin to sound manipulative and submissive.


If you would like to know more about communicating powerfully and positively with people we could help. Contact us on (44) 01798 872 266, or go to contact us or e-mail headed “communication”

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