"Reflective listening is a way of checking rather than assuming you know what someone means" (Miller & Rollnick, 2002)
Reflection is a technique of therapeutic intervention based on repeating content or feelings arising from the participant’s words. Reflections are an important part of the facilitator’s listening ability. Reflection makes simple listening into empathetic listening, and helps the facilitator to examine their understanding, to reinforce trust and connection with the participant, and to avoid the interrogation trap. Often reflection helps to take the conversation into new directions; it should be remembered that reflection is a statement, not a question, and a question can be turned into a reflection.
- Creating personal trust and connection.
- Broadening the conversation and obtaining new information.
- Reinforcing or correcting the listener’s understanding.
- Facilitating deeper understanding instead of assumptions.
Reflection is an important tool in the process of participatory listening, and helps both the facilitator and the participant to examine the level of the facilitator’s understanding of the participant’s messages. Reflection does not show that the facilitator agrees with the participant’s words but that they have understood them, and helps to examine underlying assumptions that the facilitator may have brought to the meeting.
Reflections can be divided into three main types:
1. Reflection of spoken content
2. Reflection of experience (behavior)
3. Reflection of emotion.
According to the motivational approach, there are two main levels of reflection:
Simple reflections: clarify what was said, enable the participant to see that the facilitator is really listening to them and thus reinforce trust and acceptance, and can be directed. The types of simple reflections:
- Repeating what was said
- Using different words (but not interpretation)
- Reflecting feelings (expressed by the participant, not the facilitator’s assumptions).
Complex reflections: suggest an implied meaning that was not directly stated, deepen the conversation and the connection between facilitator and participant, and can be directed – reinforce investigation of the participant’s ambivalence about the process of change, and suggest an alternative interpretation or view of what was said. The types of complex reflections:
- Interpretation or paraphrase of the participant’s words.
- Reflection of feelings that were not spoken.
- Escalating/ diminishing reflections – help to change the course of the conversation and reinforce the change dialogue.
- Bilateral or bi-ethical reflections – reflect gaps and facilitate discussion of them.
- The reflection can start with “If I understand you, correct me if I’m wrong”.
- Reflections help the facilitator to ascertain understanding as the basis of progress – the participant feels that they are being listened to and understood.
- Reflections lead to focus and highlighting of specific things and can bring out things that were not said.
- Reflections echo what was said – sometimes the simple fact of repeating the participant’s words helps them to assimilate what is happening to them; they hear themselves and this strengthens their self awareness.