Wednesday, March 02, 2011
An Exercise In Reflective Listening And Empathy
with apologies and thanks to: Sustainable Employee Motivation
Reflective listening in its purest form means that you verbally repeat
what you hear somebody else is saying, not by rote, but with caring.
It is listening to others from a position of empathy.
So what is empathy? It is the shift from me to we. It is the ability
to understand others on both a feeling and thinking level…to recognize
emotions in others…to make the basic shift from "the world revolves
around me" to being caring and motivated to help others.
Empathy is an essential part of emotional intelligence. (The original
piece said, "Empathy is where you grow out of the ego-centered part of
being a child.")
Empathy can be tricky. People who demonstrate a lot of empathy are
very good at tapping into their own life experience in order to relate
to what someone else is experiencing. But they use it only as a
starting point and not as the end itself.
If you are empathetic, you use your own experience as a guide, but
always "check out" whether your interpretation of another person's
feelings or thoughts is accurate.
You always maintain the thought that another person might feel
differently or think differently than you do in any given situation.
This is why reflective listening is so powerful. It helps you to
listen to others from that point of view.
Reflective listening can be trained, like any other emotional muscle.
The very act of repeating what the other person are saying will
immediately cause you to stop before you act on your automatic
The following activity will train that reflective listening muscle. It
is a good activity to do with your spouse. (a spouse work particularly
Reflective Listening Exercise
• Select an issue on which you have differing opinions. It is
important that you choose an issue about which you have differing
opinions, because that's when it's the hardest to listen to each
other. (We often invest in being right or in winning and don't come
from a place of wanting to understand)
• Begin your conversation with one person sharing their perspective on
the issue. The spotlight stays on that person until they indicate that
they agree that their partner clearly understands their perspective.
· If I, person A, am the first to share my perspective, person B
takes as much time as necessary to feed back to me their
interpretation of what I am saying.
Person A does one of two things. They either VALIDATE and say "Yes, I
think you have an accurate understanding" (Or "yes, that's what I
meant," or "yes, that is what I was trying to say") or they "CORRECT"
the interpretation by saying "that's not exactly it. Here's what I
Once person A has VALIDATED that person B is understanding, person B
then has the opportunity to share their point of view and allow person
A to check out their interpretations.
• Caveat: When you are communicating your point of view, share a few
ideas and then let your listener clarify. Then continue sharing more
If you speak for 5 minutes straight before your listener has a chance
to check out what they're making up, they won't be able to remember
everything you said.
Debrief After The Activity
• Did you feel that you and your partner understood each other better
or that you made some headway in solving the problem?
• What was it like to focus so intently on understanding the meaning
of someone else's communication rather than on what you were going to
• What did you personally have to let go of to listen effectively and
"check out your thinking maps?"
Become A Reflective Listener
After we have practiced this several times, which I hope we will,
let's try to make it a part of our lives and listening skills! I hope
some of the practice sessions that I hope we have will BE real-life
problems and situations!!!!
• Step into someone else's shoes. All of us have people with whom we
have difficulty emphasizing or situations in which we lack empathy.
Choose a person or a situation and literally "step into those shoes"
for a period of time. Spend an hour or half a day doing someone else's
job. Note whether your ability to emphasize changes based on seeing
the world from a different perspective.
• Choose a real life "hot spot" to practice it. Select a person with
whom you are having relationship difficulties. Or you can choose a
person that you know holds significantly different beliefs from your
Invite that person into a conversation in which you consciously check
your own interpretations of what they are saying.
Begin by focusing on them. Before you move to sharing your beliefs,
say, "I just want to make sure I understand you. Can you clarify? Is
this what you mean?" People rarely say no to this.
When you are speaking, ask the person if they wouldn't mind sharing
what they're hearing you say. You can then take an opportunity to
correct them if you feel misunderstood.
• Use this tool whenever you have to deal with conflict of any kind.
Remember, this is a habit, and just like any other muscle, you need to
Just practicing it once, won't make it a habit. We need to use it
whenever we can to make it part of our hard wiring. I hope you are
willing to seriously work on this with me.
I am serious about wanting to practice this with you over and over
until it becomes a HABIT for both of us. PLEASE tell me that yes you
a e willing to work on this.