When having conversations about change, it is important to engage individual you are helping, building trust and connection. One way to do this is to use reflective listening, a technique established as part of Miller and Rollnick’s work on Motivational Interviewing. Put simply, reflection builds connection. When the majority of our helping interactions consist of reflections, opposed to simply asking questions and giving feedback, we are able to build stronger relationships. Here is a simple breakdown on reflection:
Types of reflection
Simple Reflection: this consists of reflecting the exact words or phrases used by the individual.
Friend: “I feel guilty about my gambling because sometimes I spend more than I can afford and I know I should be saving my money.”
You: “You feel guilty when you spend more than you can afford…”
This can also be done by remembering some of the unique words or phrases used by the individual throughout the conversation and incorporating them back into your conversation at a later point.
Labeling: this consists of simply identifying what you are observing about the other person.
*Friend appears agitated after describing failed diet attempts*
You: “…this really frustrates you.”
Complex reflection: this consists of finishing the other persons sentences or paragraphs by guessing what they mean. It is also one of the most powerful forms of reflection. The key to this technique is that the flow of the dialogue should read as if it is a single person speaking.
Friend: “When I come to the casino I find it difficult to control my spending.”
You: “…the games are so engaging and you lose track of time.”
Friend: “The other day I was here for six hours and it only felt like one.”
You: “…and before you know it, you’re spending a lot more money than you planned on spending.”
Note that you need to sometimes go out on a limb and take a guess at what phrase may accurately represent the other persons experience. If you are not on the mark, the other person will correct you. In the case of being corrected, adjust your reflection to better fit their experience, maintaining a spirit of emphatic concern or curiosity.
Summarizing: this requires simply summarizing everything that was said recently in the conversation.
Friend: “I tried going to a therapist to deal with my gambling because my partner was frustrated with my spending and told me I had to go, but I don’t think it helped because I keep wanting to gamble, but I also don’t want to upset my partner. I just feel lost and overwhelmed because my relationship is very important to me.
You: “So you’re feeling lost and overwhelmed because you enjoy gambling, but your partner thinks you are spending too much and wants you to get help. You value your relationship so you sought help, but you feel that it was not helpful for you.”
Mirroring Body language: this requires maintaining a posture and expression resembling the individual with whom you are speaking.
*Friend stands with hands half in pockets, at a 45 degree angle to you, with a casual facial expression*
*You mirror this posture and demeanor in a way that is natural to you and your own current state*
Note that mirroring is something humans do naturally when we are in sync with other individuals. Therefore, becoming conscious of this instinct can allow us to be more aware of when we are not in alignment with someone. Gently adjusting our physical presence in alignment with the other person may not only allow a better connection to develop, but it can also make us feel more open and empathetic toward the other person. Also note that this should be adjusted gently and never forced to a point where it does not feel natural.
In summary, reflection builds connection. Rather than simply listening, asking questions, and offering feedback, incorporating a large dose of reflection into your conversations will help you better connect with individuals in both your daily life and in your helping interactions.