7 Tips for Healthy Communication – Number Six Reflect What You Hear

For number six in my seven part series I am demonstrating how you can practice reflecting what you have heard someone else say. In the counseling world this is called “reflecting content” or “summarizing content”. Summarizing is a skill that every therapist learns and hopefully hones over years of practice. Of course, it is not just beneficial for the therapeutic relationship, but also in your every day relationships.

If you are interested in going back and reading my other posts in this series you can click the links below!

6. Reflect What You Hear

Do you ever notice yourself formulating your response to what someone is saying before they are even done speaking? If you do this, there is nothing wrong with you. However, it isn’t always the best way to communicate with others. You can even take a moment right now to think about how it feels when someone does this to you. If you are like many of my clients, it probably makes you feel unheard and invalidated when someone jumps in before you have even finished talking.

In order to help the person you are talking to feel truly listened to, you can try summarizing what you just heard them say and then reflect it back to them. You don’t have to repeat back everything they said verbatim. Instead, pick out the things that stuck out to you. Pay particular attention to the feelings the other person is expressing. This is the format I like to use: “What I am hearing you say is _____. (fill in the blank with the summery) Where is that right and where is that wrong?” The question at the end gives you the opportunity to clarify with the other person if you understood correctly.

Here is an example to help illustrate what it looks like:
Person #1: “I get so frustrated when you tell me you are going to do the dishes and I come home from a long day at work and there are dishes all over the counter. It makes me feel like you don’t care about me or how hard I work.”
Person #2: “What I am hearing is that you feel really frustrated and uncared for when I leave the dishes on the counter. Where is that right and where is that wrong?”

Allow space for the other person to correct you or to tell you that you pretty much got it right. It is important when you are communicating in this way to pick out the feelings the other person is expressing. Notice how person #2 reflected back that they heard the first person felt frustrated and uncared for. The point is to hear and validate someone else’s feelings and experience. An example of how not to do this would be to say: “I hear that your mad at me about the dishes”. While it might feel like that is what person #1 is communicating that is not what they actually said.

Practice This Skill

  1. Next time you are having a serious conversation with someone take a moment to set the intention that you are going to listen mindfully and reflect what you hear. You might even take a moment to pause and tell yourself that you are going to listen rather than jumping in.
  2. As the other person starts talking keep 80% of your attention on what they are saying and 20% on how your body and mind respond. You might feel anxiety building in your chest or you might notice that your mind is racing to find an excuse or defense. Take a deep breath to stay grounded in your body while continuing to listen to them.
  3. When The other person has finished speaking take a moment to pick out the feelings you hear them mention. Did they mention any emotions?
  4. Once you have a sense of the feeling, reflect what you just hear the other person say. Again, you can use this format: “What I am hearing you say is _____. Where is that right and where is that wrong?”
  5. Allow the other person a chance to offer any corrections or to clarify. If they have clarifications offer your reflection again.
  6. You can repeat this process as many times as you need until the other person feels hear and understood.

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