Skills in Reflection – Listening to Feelings

Skills in Reflection – Listening to Feelings

Reflection is a way of building empathy and demonstrating that we have not only heard what the person has said, it shows that we have listened. Reflection of the emotion and feeling and encapsulating the essence of the situation is empathy within words.

To use reflective listening well, you need to be aware from your own problems to enable you to focus on the speaker. You also need to trust the speaker to find their own solutions rather than trying to convince them of your own. It requires the speaker to be willing to talk; you can’t force them to open up.

In reflective listening, the listener adopts what Rogers called “the therapist’s hypothesis”. This is the belief that the capacity for self-insight, problem-solving, and growth resides primarily in the speaker. This means that the central questions for the listener are not ‘What can I do for this person? Or even “How do I see this person”. To use this effectively we must demonstrate:

Empathy is the listener’s desire and effort to understand the recipient of help from the recipient’s internal frame of reference rather than from some external point of view, such as a theory; a set of standards, or the listener’s preferences. The empathic listener tries to get inside the other’s thoughts and feelings. The idea is to obtain an emic rather than etic understanding of the situation. Expressed verbally and nonverbally though messages such as “I follow you,” “I’m with vou” or “I understand,” empathy is the listener’s effort to hear the other person deeply, accurately, and non-judgmentally. A person who sees that a listener is really trying to understand his or her meanings will be willing to explore his or her problems and self-more deeply. Empathy is surprisingly difficult to achieve. We all have a strong tendency to advise, tell, agree, or disagree from our own point of view.

Intermittent empathy is not good enough! It can have a devastating impact and can lead to confusion and insecurity and bring up memories of negative difficult times in their life – it’s really quite cruel.

Acceptance is closely related to empathy. Acceptance means having respect for a person for simply being a person. Acceptance should be as unconditional as possible. This means that the listener should avoid expressing agreement or disagreement with what the other person says. This attitude encourages the other person to be less defensive and to explore aspects of self and the situation that they might otherwise keep hidden.

Empathy and acceptance are partners; If I am of essential worth, then clearly I warrant understanding and the same must be true of the other. It is a logical and experiential impossibility to value someone deeply and then to withhold understanding and compassion.

Congruence refers to openness, frankness, and genuineness on the part of the listener. The congruent listener is in touch with themselves. If angry or irritated, for example, the congruent person admits to having this feeling rather than pretending not to have it (perhaps because they are trying to be accepting). They communicate what they feel and know, rather than hiding behind a mask. Candor on the part of the listener tends to evoke candor in the speaker. When one person comes out from behind a facade, the other is more likely to as well.

Concreteness refers to focusing on specifics rather than vague generalities. Often, a person who is has a problem will avoid painful feelings by being abstract or impersonal, using expressions like “sometimes there are situations that are difficult” (which is vague and abstract), or “most people want…” (which substitutes others for oneself). The listener can encourage concreteness by asking the speaker to be more specific. For example, instead of a agreeing with a statement like “You just can’t trust a manager. They care about themselves first and you second”, you can ask what specific incident the speaker is referring to.

In some cases, the principle of congruence can be at odds with the principles of empathy and acceptance. For example, if the listener is annoyed with the other person, they probably have to suspend empathy and acceptance until they sort things out. The listener must be prepared to deviate from the four principles if that’s what the other person wants.

Here’s Carl Rogers showing – a master class in using reflections (I’m not sure I heard one question!)

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