Reflective Listening

Reflective listening is a communication skill by which students can increase their understanding of other people’s ideas, issues, approaches and concerns within the group. It's a particularly useful skill for avoiding conflict within a group.

The following handout may help students practise reflective listening skills during group work.

Student handout

Reflective listening

What is reflective listening?

Reflective listening appears deceptively easy, but it takes practice and skill to do well. In reflective listening, the listener tries to clarify and restate what the other person is saying.

The benefits of reflective listening are that it can:

  • increase the listener's understanding of the other person
  • help the other person clarify their thoughts
  • reassure the other person that someone is willing to attend to their point of view and wants to help them express their thoughts.

What does reflective listening involve?

When practising reflective listening, you should:

  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Responding to what is personal in what's being said, rather than to impersonal, distant or abstract material.
  • Restate and clarify what the speaker has said; don't ask questions or say what you feel, believe or want.
  • Try to understand the feelings reflected in what the speaker is saying, not just the facts or ideas being presented.
  • Work to develop the best possible sense of the speaker's frame of reference while avoiding the temptation to respond from your own frame of reference.
  • Respond with acceptance and empathy, not with indifference, cold objectivity or false concern.

How do I know when I’m using reflective listening effectively?

To identify ways in which you could improve your reflective listening, ask yourself, did you:

  • Allow speakers to completely state their thoughts or opinions without interrupting?
  • Actively try to remember the important facts or points made by others?
  • Jot down any details or points raised by others?
  • Repeat back the gist of, or summarise, the points of view expressed?
  • Keep an open mind, even if I found the points made by others disagreeable?
  • Avoid being hostile towards views that differed from my own?
  • Express genuine interest in the conversation of others?

Adapted from R.F. Stein and S.N. Hurd (eds) (2000), Using Student Teams in the Classroom: A Faculty Guide, Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc., p.57–58; and D. Fisher, Communication in Organizations, St. Paul, MN: Jaico.