Reflective Listening

Conveys respect, interest, and empathy

Supports the self-determination of the person being listened to

  • To understand what the speaker is saying

  • To help the speaker clarify his or her own thoughts and feelings

  • To let the speaker know you have heard and understood

You can’t listen if you’re talking

  • Listening is different than problem-solving.

  • Effective listening requires staying with the problem for a while

  • Listen for meaning

  • Maintain appropriate eye contact

  • Be aware of body language.

  • Use facial expressions such as nods and smiles, as well as verbal affirmations such as “uh-huh” to let the speaker know you are following

  • Don’t interrupt, correct mistakes, give advice, or tell your own story.

  • Give the person time to speak. Don’t immediately fill the space when there is silence.

Basic Reflective Listening Skills

Reflecting – holding up a mirror to the speaking person. Don’t edit when you reflect, don’t add or leave out information. Using a thorough reflection can be effective in helping the person move forward. Ex. “So, you think that the upcoming court date will go well.” “So you’re worried about your sister.”

Summarizing – summarizing can highlight key points of a person’s story or feelings. Ex. “So you have been here for three months and before that you were in a County Jail, and you said you like it here better?” Validating – demonstrates that the listener has heard the emotional content and impact of the experience, not just the factual information. Ex.“It sounds like that experience was very frustrating for you.”

 Try using various phrases to express your understanding of the speaker’s messages:

“You feel___________________________________________”


“You seem_____________________________________________”

“It sounds like__________________________________________”

“Seems as if____________________________________________”

“I hear you saying_______________________________________”

“So you are feeling______________________________________”

“I imagine_____________________________________________”

“I’m sensing that________________________________________”

Feelings and Themes in Conversation:

Reflecting feelings makes people feel heard. When an active listener names a feeling is can allow the person being listened to the opportunity to look at that feeling, clarify how they feel, and build understanding. Example: “I hear you saying you feel worried about what’s going to happen if you get deported. Is that right?” “It sounds like you’re angry at your friend. Did I understand that right?”

Reflecting themes focuses on the problem. Breaking the problem into concrete themes can clarify the situation and make what seems like an impossible mess feel manageable. Framing themes can set the stage for the speaker to develop concrete strategies to address the challenges in their life. Example: “It sounds like one thing you need to figure out is where you can stay if you are released. Is that right?”

Principles of Effective Listening:

Be authentic – to truly hear what a person is saying we have to care about what they are trying to tell us. Be genuine. Be yourself. Start where the person is – Focus your attention on the immediate concerns of the person speaking.

Respect – support the person’s own capacity to solve their own problems.

Acceptance – behave in a manner which conveys concern and care for the speaker, no matter what they present.

Empathy – can you feel and imagine what the person is going through? Can you convey the message: “This sounds like a very difficult situation for you. Is that right?” Sympathy is more feeling sorry for someone – empathy is putting yourself in another person’s shoes.

Non-Judgmental – support the person’s individual perspective on the situation they are in without judgment. Maintain an awareness of your own biases, judgments and prejudices and how you might be signaling them verbally or non-verbally. Be careful with your facial expressions.

reflective-listening-1 PDF