Reflecting on listening

Reflecting on listening

By Rebecca Boteler

Listening is something that not necessarily everyone would think of as a skill. But while it is something that’s technically easy to do, it takes practice and skill to do it well.

Most of us would’ve had conversations with someone who is not listening, with the result often being a communication breakdown. We are all probably guilty of not concentrating, drifting off, cutting people off mid-sentence, talking over the top of people and listening only to respond, rather than listening to truly understand what the other person is saying.

As a journalist, listening is a skill that is developed through necessity. Being a good interviewer is based on being a good listener. It’s your job to ask succinct questions, properly listen to and concentrate on the answers, understand and process the information and then use that information to formulate your next question. An interview where a journalist sticks to a set of pre-written questions does not make compelling viewing (or listening). Because interviews are recorded or listened to live, it’s immediately apparent if a journalist isn’t listening properly because they misunderstand basic information or ask questions that the talent has already answered.

Working in the corporate world, listening to your colleagues, customers and clients is just as important. To have really good communication, you might want to practice the skill that has now been dubbed ‘reflective listening’. Reflective listening is basically listening to what the other person has to say, and then repeating it back to them. Yes, it’s used in counselling, but it can also be applied in the workplace. Wikipedia defines it as ‘an attempt to reconstruct what the person is thinking and feeling and to relay this understanding back to them’. This can often be started with the phrase “So what I’ve just heard you say is…”

Five tips for reflective listening:

  • Ask succinct questions that don’t offer an opinion or suggestions for how the person should answer.
  • Listen quietly – don’t interrupt, wait for the person to completely finish speaking.
  • Concentrate on everything that’s said, and take notes.
  • Understand and remember the main points and language.
  • Feed the points back to them using the specific words they’ve used without adding your own values or judgements.

The benefit of reflective listening is that the person feels like they’ve really been heard and understood. Conversely, if you’ve misunderstood what they’ve said, it gives them the chance to clarify what they mean straight away. Hearing their words come back to them can also assist individuals to get really clear on what they mean and gives them the opportunity to change the language they’re using to pinpoint their true intention.

Reflective listening also has benefits for the person asking the questions. It allows you to really understand what your colleague, customer or client is saying, improves your communication and relationship, and ultimately, helps you respond to what they really want so that you provide them with a better service.

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