What is Reflective Listening? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is Reflective Listening?
  • 0:45 Examples of Reflective…
  • 4:08 High-Risk Encounter
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michael Quist

Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.

If you've ever had someone truly listen to you, you know how it helps you express and understand your thoughts. In this lesson, we will explore reflective listening, looking at its definition and then going through some examples.

What is Reflective Listening?

Have you ever had a conversation with a really good listener? They are intent and interested. Their posture is open and empathetic. They ask excellent questions, trying to understand what you really meant. They seem to be genuinely enjoying your words.

Reflective listening means focusing completely on the true message being spoken. It means hearing and understanding the words and body language of the person who is talking to you. It involves establishing rapport (social harmony), empathy, and understanding by reflecting the thoughts and feelings that you've heard and seen. You're not there to offer a perspective, opinion, or solution. You're just there to listen.

Examples of Reflective Listening

The following are situations where reflective listening is being practiced by one of the participants:

The Pastor

Mary was desperate, and she decided to visit her pastor. Seated behind his desk when she was admitted into his office, the pastor immediately rose to greet Mary, gesturing toward a comfortable armchair. Let's first look at a sample scenario with a church pastor and one of his congregation members.

''Hello, Mary, and welcome. Please have a seat.'' Pulling another chair over to face Mary's, he settled himself, alert and receptive. ''All right, Mary, please tell me all about it.''

As Mary began to describe her predicament, the pastor watched her face, obviously interested. Frequently, he would nod and smile. ''I see. Please continue.'' Every few sentences, he would break in, apologetically, and recount what she was saying. ''Pardon me, so you believe that these frightening dreams are causing your shortness of breath and lack of sleep?''

At one point in the conversation, Mary became overcome by emotion and began to cry. Her words were fragmented, and difficult to follow. Leaning forward, the pastor spoke gently. ''All right, Mary, let's slow down a little. It seems like you're feeling afraid, tired, and depressed. Tell me more about these feelings.''

While the conversation was taking place, the pastor subconsciously shifted his posture and expression to match Mary's. When the intensity of her voice grew, he drew in, listening with rapt, focused attention. When she seemed overwhelmed and distant, he relaxed, giving her space and encouraging her. When she was silent, absorbed in her own thoughts, he waited, his eyes and face silently inviting her to continue when she was ready.

When they were finished talking, Mary remarked that she now felt ready to face her fears. She thanked the pastor for being willing to listen. The pastor just smiled.

The Friend

Let's look at another example of reflective listening among two friends, Joan and Mark.

''Joan, I need a favor.''

Seeing her friend's stress, Joan closed her laptop and stepped around the desk. Pulling the door shut and offering a chair, Joan settled into another chair nearby, facing her friend. She was smiling and attentive. ''Mark, you know I'll do anything I can to help. Please, tell me all about it.''

As Mark began to speak, Joan's face was intent and interested. Her eyes watched his, and her expressions followed his story, smiling when there was a hint of humor, sympathetic when Mark seemed troubled. Every now and then, she would break in to comment on what he seemed to be conveying. ''So when you're with Marcia, you're not sure what to think? You can't tell how she really feels?''

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