If your career could use a boost, try developing your reflective listening skills
Communication abilities continue to be among the most important skills that people rely on for steady career advancement. No matter where you work or what you do, the ability to communicate information is often a key tool for success. But communication is a two-way street, and the ability to receive information can be just as important as your ability to convey your own message. To be an effective communicator, you need to develop reflective listening skills that will help you to truly connect with others in the workplace.
In this post, we'll explore the benefits of reflective listening and look at some different skills that you can use to master that talent. We'll also provide some helpful tips that you can use to enhance your own reflective listening capacity in ways that can advance your career.
What is reflective listening?
Have you ever participated in a conversation that left you feeling as though the other person really didn't understand what you were trying to say, or vice versa? Perhaps one or both of you were too busy interrupting to actually listen to what the other person was saying. These types of nonproductive conversations are more common than most people realize, and they tend to leave participants feeling misunderstood and frustrated.
Reflective listening is a form of communication that can help you to avoid those types of frustrating encounters. It's a style of communication that actively tries to understand what the other person is saying, as well as the true meaning of their message. It requires you to listen to the speaker, reflect on the meaning of the words you're hearing, and then reflect that message back at them to demonstrate your understanding.
This type of communication technique will typically involve sitting (or standing) quietly as you listen to someone's entire message. Once they are done speaking, you then repeat their message back to them, either paraphrasing what was said or using a mirror technique that repeats the main points verbatim. You only respond to the message after you've demonstrated that you completely understand what they were saying.
How reflective listening can benefit your career
There are some obvious advantages to this type of communication, and those advantages can boost your career if you know how to leverage them properly. Here are just a few of the many ways that reflective listening can help you in your job and career advancement.
Reflective listening can be a simple way to develop your ability to focus on other people's messages. If you're one of those people who is accustomed to rapid-fire conversations in which everyone just continually responds to the last message heard, then you know how easy it is for misunderstandings to occur. By practicing reflective listening, you can improve your understanding and get more out of every conversation.
As you practice reflective listening, you'll find that your own ability to communicate clearly may be improved over time. The very act of interpreting other people's meaning and repeating it back to them can enhance your appreciation for clear and concise communication.
Because people appreciate being heard and understood, your efforts to employ reflective listening can help to strengthen your work relationships. Once coworkers come to identify you as someone who truly cares enough to listen to what they have to say, you'll earn their trust and loyalty.
Key reflective listening skills
It's important to understand that reflective listening is a skill set rather than a singular skill. To properly develop your own ability to use reflective listening, you'll need to focus on the following skills:
The ability to actively listen is the most important reflective listening skill, because it enables you to actually focus on what the speaker is saying. It involves good habits like maintaining eye contact, using nods and other gestures to show that you're paying attention, and carefully considering the speaker's full meaning. Consistent use of this skill helps to develop rapport and trust over time.
The ability to read body language
Human communication involves more than just words. Nonverbal cues also deliver a great deal of useful information if you know what you're looking for. Paying attention to things like vocal tone, subtle physical movements, and facial expressions are an important part of any listening process.
Without empathy, you'll struggle to fully understand anyone else's point of view. That understanding is critical if you are to properly use reflective listening to its full potential. Moreover, learning how to employ empathy in a sincere way will help to make people more comfortable around you and more likely to open up to you.
Learning how to ask clarifying questions can be an important part of your reflective listening skill set as well. Asking the right questions at the right time is a great way to demonstrate that you're fully engaged in the conversation and truly interested in understanding the message that you're hearing.
Paraphrasing is the art of reframing someone else's words in your own terms. This can be a great way to ensure that you're on the same page as the speaker, while also allowing them to hear their own message. Proper use of this message reframing technique can even sometimes enable speakers to realize that they didn't deliver the message they intended to deliver.
Silence may not seem like much of a skill, but it's an important part of reflective listening. When someone else is speaking, resist the urge to interrupt or fill any empty space with your words. This can ensure that the person you're speaking with knows that they have your full attention. It also gives you the opportunity to properly consider the words you're hearing and reflect on their meaning.
Reflective listening examples
To help you better understand how reflective listening skills may be used in actual conversations, here are a few hypothetical examples to consider:
Speaker: “I'm getting complaints from management about the declining quality of my reports, but none of them seem to be aware of the increased reporting requirements that have been imposed in recent months. It's like they don't even understand that they're demanding duplicate work that is wasting hours each week.”
You: “It sounds like you feel that the different managers have somehow gotten their wires crossed and are each demanding that you repeat the same reporting duties multiple times. Is that correct? It also sounds like the overall quality might increase if there was a way to file a single report that they could all use. Is that something we should look into to relieve some of the time pressure you're feeling?”
Speaker: “You know, I've been working here for seven years and have repeatedly put in for a promotion, only to be denied each time without explanation. But in the last seven months, I've watched three people receive promotions with less than a year's experience. Does my hard work mean nothing to these people?”
You: “If I understand you correctly, you're upset that you're being overlooked for promotions and frustrated that so many new people are getting those advancements instead of you. Would it be helpful if we schedule a meeting with your supervisor to explore what they might need you to do to help you to land the promotion you want?”
How you can develop your reflective listening skills
Fortunately, your own reflective listening skills can be developed if you're willing to take the time to practice the various skills that make up that skill set. Focus on these areas and you'll discover that reflective listening is a lot easier than it seems.
Practice being silent when others are speaking. There's an old adage that suggests that we all have two ears and one mouth for a reason and should listen twice as much as we speak. That principle can serve you well as you practice your reflective listening skills.
Instead of thinking about what you want to say in response to another speaker, actively work to consider their message. Pay attention to their body language, emotions, and words, and be prepared to reflect their message back to them when they are done speaking.
Focus on understanding how the other person is feeling. That empathy will help you as you repeat their message back in an understanding way.
Try to avoid the urge to offer advice. The goal of reflective listening is to provide support and acknowledgment to other participants in your conversations - and build rapport and trust.
Develop your career
Communication skills will always be some of the most important abilities that you can possess as you seek to advance your career. By developing your reflective listening skills, you can strengthen every aspect of your communication abilities and build the relationships and reputation you need to enjoy lasting career success.
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