Communication Tools: Reflective Listening

August 22, 2022

Few people will argue that relationships are more important in our lives than working and making money. Yet people tend to talk about how important their relationships are rather than actually working on them. That is surely because many people find it a lot easier to make money than to have healthy relationships. Healthy relationships need good communication, and that takes time and lots of work, and it is worth every minute.

There are plenty of resources on the internet to improve your communication skills. One such tool is called reflective listening, that is telling someone something they have already told you to make sure you are talking about the same thing.

There was a time in my marriage when I thought I was so smart I knew what my wife was going to say before she said it, especially during heated arguments. Actually, I wasn’t as smart as I thought. As we went around and around trying to offer solutions to our problem. After I had just put a bunch of words in her mouth that weren’t hers she would ask me what she just said. I would stammer pointlessly in a vain attempt to get close, but since I really wasn’t listening I had no idea. Then she would repeat her statement which almost always solved the argument or at least moved us toward the solution because now we were on the same page.

Reflective Listening can break the cycle of circular arguments that seem to have no end. They can also help you make sure you are arguing the same thing. Too many times my wife and I have argued about different things at the same time. One of us would ask what the other was arguing about. Dumbfounded we would not only realize we were arguing about two different things; we would also realize there was no argument because we agreed with each other.

Jesus used Reflective Listening at Simon’s home in Luke 7:36-50 (take time to read it now). Simon gave no water for Jesus to wash his feet as he entered Simon’s home, no kiss of greeting as was surely given to all of Simon’s other guests, and he certainly didn’t anoint Jesus’ head. Jesus wants to make sure he and Simon are arguing about the same thing. Simon wants to argue about Jesus’ choice of friends; Jesus wants to point out the great power of mercy, hospitality, and forgiveness. Once they are arguing the same thing there is no argument, Jesus communicates quite clearly what is truly important in relationships with people and God as he does not try to justify himself, but seeks to serve the other.

This can be an invaluable communication tool when working with your children, especially if you have a child who doesn’t listen well. Ask them what you just said. If they don’t know, calmly say it again, and again…

For example, you walk into the family room, and see clearly that your six-year-old son has scattered every one of his games across the floor, mixing them up with one another completely. The parent’s natural response is, “I can’t believe what a mess you have made. It is going to take a long time to clean it up. You will not be able to do anything else today until the job is done.” You think the matter is settled. Many children stopped hearing when they heard the words, “I can’t believe…” It is a simple matter to check this out by asking your “Ace Wrecking Crew” son, “What did I just say?”

The most common response is the blank stare. Clearly good communication has not happened. Give your son a one-minute time out, say your punishment again with less drama, and ask what you have said. Repeat this until he can repeat it. It won’t guarantee the room gets cleaned, but at least when you punish him by not letting him go play with friends he will understand why.

Ask your spouse if you can try reflective listening the next time you have a disagreement. Can you better model good communication for your children by using this tool in raising them? Is there a situation at work that went badly because people were not arguing about the same thing? Over the next four weeks I will share more of my favorite tools of communication. I hope they will help you in your relationships.