The technique of reflection

A reflective listener tries to respond to feelings, not just to content. Feelings emerge in the emotional tone that the speaker expresses, such as anger, disappointment, discouragement, fear, joy, elation, or surprise. Content refers to ideas, reasons, theories, assumptions, and descriptions - to the substance of the speaker’s message.

As Tannen notes, in troubles-talk, the speaker is often not looking for the solution of the surface problem, but rather for a way to deal with the emotional and social ramifications.

In reflection, the listener tries to clarify and restate what the other person is saying.

1) It can increase the listener's understanding of the other person.
2) It can help the other to clarify their thoughts.
3) It can reassure the other that someone is willing to attend to his or her point of view and wants to help.

When the listener responds to personal statements rather than impersonal ones, the other usually stays at the personal level, improving his or her understanding of the situation, and developing a more realistic, active approach to solving problems.

Responding to what is personal means responding to things the other person says about themselves rather than about content (people, situations etc). If a co-worker said, "I'm worried that I'll lose my job" the reflective listener would try to focus on the worried "I" rather than on the job situation. A response such as "It’s scary" would be better than "Maybe the cutbacks won't affect you." Using feelings is OK!

Carl Rogers notes that a person who receives response at the emotional level has "the satisfaction of being deeply understood" and can go on to express more feelings, eventually getting "directly to the emotional roots" of their problem.

Usually, the listener can be most in touch with the other's frame of reference by responding to feelings that are expressed – it’s common that we do not state our emotions openly, this may mean responding to the emotional tone that they express implicitly e.g. sensations in the body.

Acceptance of negative and ambivalent feelings communicates that the listener accepts the unpleasant side of the other’s experience and is willing to join in the exploration of this. It provides a major release for a person who has previously felt it necessary to suppress negative feelings.

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Written by Bournville Counselling Practice (Eleni Kypridemos MBACP)

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Written by Bournville Counselling Practice (Eleni Kypridemos MBACP)

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