For what it’s worth…

Therapy is way more than a toolbox of intervention.  Information alone cannot replace professional help. However, information can be very powerful.  So, for what it’s worth to you, here is the weekly post offering a therapeutic idea, concept, or intervention that you can try out in your own life or relationships. 

There is a deceptively simple communication tool that most of us would do well to employ in all of our relationships, personal or professional.  Reflective listening is when you simply repeat back what you heard the other person say.

Sounds so simple or easy that it may seem awkward or weird at first.  I promise you that if you do not naturally use this technique already it WILL feel awkward at first, but it is worth the practice.

I dare you to listen to successful business people in action.  Many of them use this tool naturally.

Others of us have to practice.  What snags our efforts is that too many of us are already thinking about what WE want to say in return (or in retaliation!) to really pay attention to what the other person is saying.

When we take time to really HEAR what the other person is saying because we  plan on reflecting it back, we might be surprised by what the other person truly says.

Another snag we encounter is the tendency to think that if we reflect back it means we are agreeing with a person.

NOT TRUE!  Letting a person know that you heard them does not equal agreeing or the condoning of emotions, thoughts, or behaviors.

Several things take place when we use reflective listening.  You can read more about using this tool here where I talk about personal and professional examples of it from my own life.

However, here is a short synopsis of what takes place with the use of this deceptively simple technique:

  1. The other person feels heard.
  2. You are more likely to really listen when you know you are going to reflect back what you hear.
  3. The other person gets to experience how you have heard them.  Sometimes that is helpful feedback and they realize that they are communicating something unintended.
  4. Communication mishaps and misunderstandings get detected earlier and with less relational fall out later on.
  5. The conversation gets slowed down so that emotion does not vamp it up to uncontrollable speeds.

I have seen amazing things happen in my office when I have led mothers and daughters, dad and sons, husbands and wives, sisters and brother to use this technique.  I have also experienced the results myself!  There have been many times when I have repeated back what I have heard Jon say (or vice versa!) only for him to say: “That’s not what I said” or “That’s not what I meant.  I might have said that, but I didn’t mean it quite like that.”

So, for what its worth, try it!  Practice saying things like: “So what I hear you saying is…” or “What you’re saying is…”.

You can also reflect back emotion: “You seem really sad right now”.

Try it with your kids.  Try it with your spouse.  Try it at work.  You’ll be amazed at how people will open up when you reflect back to them what you hear WITHOUT judgment.

For more great communication help here is a fabulous book, People Skills.  Other professors and I use it in classes and students will often say that they will NOT be selling this book back.  They will be keeping it as a reference!