3 Reasons Why Reflective Listening is Awesome

Listening sounds easy. But it’s not. Real listening takes effort and skill.

Listening isn’t passing the time until the speaker runs out of things to say. Or mentally finding fault with the speaker’s argument so you can shoot down their logic. Or waiting for the speaker to take a breath so you can interrupt. These kinds of listening patterns can create a small war!

Therapists use a technique called “reflective listening” that can be useful for everyone. Reflective listening is different from the communication styles you grew up with (unless you are the child of psychotherapists), and is built on four main principles:

  1. Reflective listening is present in the moment. When listening, you don’t let your mind wander. You stay present with the speaker and give her your full attention.


  1. Reflective listening uses aligned body language. A reflective listener takes approximately the same body posture and position as the speaker. If they are sitting, you sit. If they are standing, you can start out standing, and then possibly take a sitting position once you are aligned. It is much better to position yourself beside the person or at an angle instead of facing them directly, which can appear confrontational.


  1. Reflective listening mirrors back. In other words, the listener reflects back to the speaker what the speaker has just said. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should “parrot back” the identical words the speaker uses; instead, try to mirror the meaning that the speaker has just shared.


For example: Imagine someone says to you, “I really hate it when you are late for everything!” Instead of going on the defensive, a reflective listener just volleys the meaning back to the speaker’s court. You might respond, “So, it’s really upsetting when I show up late for things,” or, “It sounds like it my lateness makes your life difficult.”


  1. Reflective listening is attuned. A reflective listener tries to be attuned to the emotion that the speaker is sharing, and respond to that emotion with respect. Don’t discount the speaker’s emotions or patronize them. Instead of saying, “Calm down! It’s not that big of a deal!,” a good listener might validate the speaker’s feelings with a reflection. With statements like “I can see you’re really frustrated right now,” or, “I can hear in your voice how difficult this is,” you are simply reflecting to the speaker what they are communicating to you.



Reflective listening is a skill that therapists spend years perfecting—but anyone can benefit from practicing the technique. Here are 3 reasons to try reflective listening:

  1. Reflective listening increases the speaker’s sense of security and safety. The speaker knows that they have your attention and that you are really trying to understand their perspective. This feeling helps the speaker to feel seen and heard, which makes them feel less alone and distressed.


  1. Reflective listening increases the listener’s understanding of the speaker. When you are listening with this technique, you are focused on what the speaker really means—not on whether the speaker is right or wrong. You are giving the speaker space to express all her thoughts and feelings without fearing that she will be interrupted or ignored. By listening to these thoughts and feelings, you’ll learn more about the speaker.



  1. Reflective listening builds trust. When the speaker knows that she can trust you to simply be present and hear her out in an attuned way, she will increase her trust in you and in your relationship. This will pay big dividends over time.


If, after trying reflective listening, you find you are still having difficulty communicating with a friend or family member, you may want to consult a therapist. Counselors can help you to develop this and other communication skills. Good communication—speaking and listening—makes all the difference in any relationship.

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Written by Joan Landes

Joan Landes is a Psychotherapist at the Spanish Fork Center for Couples and Families.