Structured Practice Example 3: Forming Reflections
'''Aim''': To help trainees learn how to form effective reflective-listening statements.
'''Time''': 20 minutes plus discussion.
'''Format''': Participants are arranged in groups of three.
* The questions asked in the last exercise are very close to reflective listening, but not quite. The process, however, is the same as in the prior exercise: The listener makes a guess about the speaker's meaning and offers this to the speaker for response.
* Explain how good reflective-listening statements are very similar to, yet different from, the "Do you mean . . ." questions. They do offer a hypothesis about what the speaker means, but this is done in the form of a statement rather than a question (difference in inflection at the end of the sentence). A good reflective listening response is a statement. Its inflection turns down at the end. (Illustrate by inflecting the word "said" differently in this sentence: "You're angry about what I said?" (up) vs. "You're angry about what I said." (down)
* It may feel strange to make a statement instead of asking a question; for example it may feel presumptuous, as if you are "telling the person what they feel." Yet statements usually work better. Why is that?
* Some people find it helpful to have some words to get them started in making a reflective listening statement. The common element is the word "you." The stereotypic counselor statement (which we recommend never be used) is: "What I hear you saying is that you . . ." Some simpler forms:
So you feel . .
It sounds like you . .
You're wondering if . .
You . . .
Be careful, however, about overuse of such stems. No stem words are needed to form a reflective listening statement.
* Demonstrate the skill by having someone from the audience volunteer a self-statement such as:
"One thing I like about myself is that I . . . ."
"One thing you should know about me is that . . ."
"One thing about myself that I'd like to change is . ."
and respond only with reflective listening statements, being careful to inflect them downward at the end. Generate several different hypothesis-testing responses for each selfstatement, and point out how each corresponds to a "Do you mean that . .?" question.
* Next offer a self-statement of your own to the audience, and have them generate reflective listening responses.
* Have each participant be prepared to offer at least three different personal statements of the form
* One thing about myself that I would like to change is . . ." Again, avoid concrete attributes (e.g., ". . . my hair color").
It is a short step from the questions of [[Thinking reflectively]] to reflection statements, but trainees often find this harder and need some coaching and encouragement. Circulate among groups, reinforce good reflection responses, make suggestions, and offer some reflections of your own if a group seems stuck. Attend to voice inflection at the end of reflection statements, and encourage a downturn in voice (statement) rather than upward inflection (question).
1. Participants in each triad are to take turns, in rotation, saying one of their sentences to their two partners.
2. When a speaker has offered a sentence, the other two serve as listeners and respond with reflective-listening statements.
3. The speaker responds to each statement with elaboration that probably includes but is not limited to "Yes" or "No." The next reflective-listening statement, then, takes this new information into account, adding a degree of complexity not present in Exercise 3.
4. Demonstrate this by having a trainee tell you one change statement; you respond only with reflective-listening statements, and continue this process several times. For example:
TRAINEE: One thing about myself that I would like to change is my moodiness.
YOU: You never know if you're going to be up or down.
T: No, it's not that. I can tell how I'm going to feel. It's just that I overreact to things.
Y: Even little things can upset you.
T: Sometimes, yes. Mainly I think I worry too much.
Y: You sit and fret about things too much.
T: Uh-huh. Often there's nothing I can do about it, but still I go over and over it in my mind.
Y: And that gets you moody.
T: Yes! I get myself all worked up, and I lose sleep.
Y: Even at night, you're worrying.
T: Yes. That's what I wish I could change.
5. Have the triads begin this process, designating one member as the first speaker. The two listeners offer only reflective-listening responses (no questions or other roadblocks), and the speaker elaborates. When a statement seems-to have been understood, rotate on to the next person, who becomes the speaker while the other two respond with reflective listening. Ask groups to stay on task and not to stop for discussion. Circulate among groups to reinforce, clarify, and make suggestions. Allow about 20 minutes for this exercise; adjust time as needed, depending on progress.
Discuss the exercise from the viewpoint of speakers and listeners. How did the speakers feel in this exercise, as compared to Exercise 3? How easy was it to generate reflective-listening responses? What difficulties were there?
Generating single reflective statements is easier than sustaining empathic listening in the context of conversation. The challenge here is the continual reflection of new meaning that is offered as a topic is explored. Because this is difficult, trainees will readily fall back on familiar alternatives to listening (e.g., asking questions). This exercise is designed to challenge trainees to rely more on empathic listening.