Reflective Listening Do's for People Manager

May 4, 2021
3 Min Read
Photo by
Jason K. Yun

Improving your reflective listening comes down to two techniques: paraphrasing and mirroring. In this article, we'll be going over the do's of reflective listening and exercises to help you become a better listener.

What is reflective listening?

So, what's the difference between listening and reflective listening? Reflecting listening can be described as paraphrasing and restating both the feelings and words of the speaker. The purposes of reflecting are:

  • To allow the speaker to listen (not hear) their own thoughts and to focus on what they say and feel
  • To show the speaker that you're trying to step into their shoes and genuinely understand what they're going through
  • To encourage the speaker to continue talking and share their thoughts in a physiological safe space

Reflective listening exercises

Reflective listening appears deceptively easy, but it takes practice and skill. When it comes to reflective listening exercises, listener should try these techniques to build up their listening skills.

Mirroring: A form of reflective listening that involves matching and repeating almost exactly what the speaker says in the conversation.

Mirroring is short and simple. This reflective listening exercises shows the speaker you're trying to understand their thoughts and feelings to the tee. Eventually, it will prompt the speaker to clarify their perspective and continue the conversation. However, avoid over-mirroring. Using the speaker's exact words too much may come off distracting.

"Everything in writing begins with language. Language begins with listening."

— Jeanette Winterson, writer

Paraphrasing: Another form of reflective listening that involves using other words to summarize what the speaker said.

It's important to note when paraphrasing that you don't introduce your own ideas when responding back to the speaker. Avoid using aggressive, accusatory, and judgement language. If some parts of the conversation are unclear, try asking clarifying questions. Part of reflective, deep listening is setting aside your own opinions.

Improving reflective listening skills

Becoming a better, deliberate listener starts with checking yourself. And how do you do that? Ask yourself:

  • Am I letting the speaker completely state their thoughts or opinions without interrupting?
  • Am I asking follow-up questions?
  • Do I remember the important tidbits and facts?
  • What are some details or counterpoints raised by others?
  • Am I summarizing the main points from the conversation back to them?
  • Am I keeping an open mind even when I don't fully agree?
  • Do I keep inserting my own opinions?

Body language and reflective listening

Believe it or not, sometimes your body language speaks louder than your words. And in many cases it can show you're not really listening. Another way of showing support is through your environment, eye contact, and gestures.

Environment: Many times your setting can show you're not really invested in the conversation. For example, if you're in a noisy coffee shop or just pacing around, that can show your speaker you're distracted from the conversation. Try to find a private spot for undisturbed conversations with your peers.

"The art of conversation lies in listening."

— Malcom Forbes, founder of Forbes

Eye contact: Eye contact are a main indicator when it comes to listening. It's easy to tell someone isn't paying attention when their eyes are somewhere else. Now that many of us are remote, we have to solely rely on what Zoom shows. Eye contact doesn't mean having a fixed stare at the person. If you are honestly interested and at ease, you will look naturally at the other person throughout the conversation.

Gestures: A great deal of communication comes from body movements. For example, if you become fidgety, cross your arms, or sneak glances at your phone while listening, you may be conveying to the other person that you're not fully invested in the conversation. The next time you're on Zoom or Google Hangouts with your team, try to lean into the camera, avoid placing your hands over the keyboard, and setting your phone on 'Do Not Disturb' mode.

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