The Difference Between Reflective & Active Listening

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  • 0:04 Active Listening
  • 2:41 Reflective Listening
  • 5:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

Active and reflective listening both involve listening to a speaker without inserting opinions or judgments. Learn the definitions of active and reflective listening, their defining characteristics, and what truly separates these listening styles from each other.

Active Listening

Some of the best communicators will tell you that listening is one of the most important skills in relationship building. In a world of increasing distractions, such as phones and busy schedules, listeners seldom take the time to be completely present with a speaker and genuinely understand what he or she is saying without judging, criticizing, or advising. This is the premise behind reflective and active listening.

Active listening demands the listener's full attention, and requires listeners to use body language and responses that demonstrate their consideration and full understanding of what the speaker is communicating. The purpose of active listening is to ensure the speaker feels heard and understood.

Active listeners are nonjudgmental of the speaker and their message. They have open body posture and make excellent and appropriate eye contact. These listeners use facial expressions and other nonverbal cues to demonstrate attention and understanding. An active listener gives undivided attention to the speaker without distraction and encourages the speaker with phrases like 'uh huh,' 'sure,' and 'mm-hm.' This listening style utilizes open-ended questions to clarify the speaker's message and paraphrased statements for understanding. An active listener will also identify and state the speaker's feelings back to them. They are also silent when appropriate and summarize the speaker's message when they are finished speaking.

Reflective listening encompasses all that is active listening but goes a step further. The listener pays special attention to the content, feelings, and meaning behind the message and reflects back to the speaker to demonstrate understanding and clarify the message. The purpose of reflective listening is to act as a mirror or reflection of the speaker, helping the speaker realize and discover new things about themselves.

Reflective listeners use all of the techniques of an active listener, but also make effort to mirror the body language, posture, and facial expressions of the speaker. They utilize silence in a more therapeutic manner, allowing the speaker to reflect on what they have said, and think about what they want to say next. A reflective listener reflects not only on the apparent feelings of the speaker, but also hidden emotions and feelings that can be interpreted through things like posture. This listening style reflects on both content and meaning behind the content of the speaker's message. It also reflects on the speaker's behavior. A reflective listener refrains from judgment statements, biases, diagnoses, praising, solving, and other things that can prevent the speaker from expressing themselves.

Reflective Listening

There is no question that active and reflective listening overlap, which sometimes makes it hard to distinguish between the two. In fact, using reflective statements is an aspect of active listening. But reflective listening is a more specialized form of listening, where active listening is more general. Let's discuss the main differences between the two.

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