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  • Steven Sutton, LCSW

Reflective Listening: An Essential Skill for Strong Relationships

It’s easy to forget the importance of truly listening to those around us, especially in our closest relationships. But effective communication is the foundation of strong relationships, and one of the most important tools in our communication toolbox is reflective listening.

Reflective listening means listening to someone with the goal of understanding their perspective and feelings, and then summarizing what you’ve heard to demonstrate that you understand. This skill can help improve communication, resolve conflicts, and deepen intimacy in your relationships. Keep in mind that when a person first tries to use this skill, it may seem awkward since they'll be new at it. By practicing and accruing repetitions, the skills of reflective listening can become an enormously powerful method of cultivating connection to other people.

Here are some key steps to practice reflective listening:

  1. Pay attention: When someone is speaking to you, give them your full attention. Put away distractions and focus on the person and what they are saying.

  2. Listen actively: Listen not just to the words, but also to the emotions and underlying message being conveyed. Try to empathize with the speaker and put yourself in their shoes.

  3. Summarize: After the speaker has finished, summarize what they said to ensure that you’ve understood their message. This is also an opportunity to check your understanding and clarify any confusion.

  4. Validate: Show the speaker that you understand their feelings and perspective by validating their experience. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything they say, but it does mean acknowledging their point of view.

Reflective listening can be a challenge at first, especially if you’re used to interrupting or not fully listening to others. But with practice, it can become a natural part of your communication style. When practiced regularly, reflective listening can help build stronger relationships by fostering trust, respect, and understanding. If you feel yourself wanting to jump in and make a point while the other person is talking, try soothing yourself by reminding yourself calmly, "just listen..." Once they've said their part you can practice reflective listening, and then respond as you wish.

High quality conversations are the key to strong relationships, and reflective listening is an essential tool for effective communication. By actively listening to those around us, we can deepen our understanding of one another, resolve conflicts, and build stronger connections. So next time you find yourself in a conversation with someone that matters, remember to give reflective listening a try. Your relationships will thank you.

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