How to Use Reflective Listening to Improve Relationships
By: Kevin Elliott, LCPC & CEO of Kevin Elliott Counseling
When partners allow each other to talk without interruption, they are encouraging each other to express themselves more fully and on a deeper level. When both are allowed to deeply express themselves, then as a couple they will feel a greater sense of emotional connection.
It is hard to be mad at someone when you are having a positive emotional connection with him or her.
When to Use It
Try to use it before an argument escalates. A rule might be… when either of us raises our voice to each other, feels like leaving, or shuts a door, we’ll use reflective listening.
- One person talks without interruption for a short time, usually around 5 minutes or less.
- The listener repeats back the main points and then asks if the summary missed anything or got any information wrong. When repeating, don’t try to interpret, just state back what the other person actually said. When finished, the listener asks, “Did I get that right?”
- If needed, the speaker clarifies any incorrect or missed items; however, at this step he or she does not get to add on things that were missed or that the speaker wished he or she had said.
- Then, the listener again repeats back for clarification.
- After accurately repeating, the listener gets to become the speaker and the process continues, with the partners swapping roles in turn, until reaching a conclusion.
- Allow as much time as needed, often up to an hour. It will usually come to an end naturally.
The process is often successful when the argument becomes less important, because ultimately the true problem is not about what the argument originally surfaced about. It’s not about who has more junk in the garage or whether we should go willingly go to the in-laws for Christmas. But it is about: Do you understand me? Do you care about what I say and feel?
When you both feel understood and cared for, you’ll both feel part of the same team and will be able to work together to find a solution to the garage or the in-law Christmas dilemma.
Do not do this while multitasking.
Both be seated.
In deciding how long a speaker should hold the floor, agree ahead of time that the listener will suggest an end time when they feel that the person has said as much as can be remembered and repeated. In order for this not to feel like an interruption agree on a hand signal such as a “t” time out signal.
Some people will do better to have a pencil and paper to jot down words that will help them remember the main points of what the speaker is saying.
Change is hard.
It can feel awkward to use Reflective Listening. It takes practice not only to get skilled at using it as a tool, but also to get the courage to actually stop an argument in mid flare up and give it a try. People often discover that they have not previously been listening in order to understand, but in order to rebut.
Ultimately this is something that couples can do on their own, but if you have frequent arguments that are flaring up, ask a therapist to facilitate Reflective Listening with you, until you get used to it.