One of the problems when dealing with communication as a subject is that various authors sometimes use the same term to mean something different. This is especially true of the word reflection. To avoid confusion, I have decided to use the term ‘reflection’, but never on its own and always with a qualifier to indicate what is being reflected. So, when speaking of reflection as an activity to reflect on your own functioning, I use the term ‘self-reflection’. In terms of listening skills, I use three terms: Literal reflection, when actual words are repeated; reflection of emotions, when dealing with the feelings we observe in our conversational partner; and reflection of meaning, when we interpret what someone may mean by what they have just said.
In a previous article we dealt with the basics of how you create a good collaborative relationship. To summarise: When another feels themselves respected and heard, then a relationship is created in which it is possible to collaborate. For this an open, inquisitive attitude is necessary, and the three Rogerian requirements of congruence, empathy and unconditional positive regard. In this article we focus on the situation when you need to deal with a client. In other words, it’s not about a social conversation in which the balance between give and take is implicit: You are now the one who needs to do the most in terms of listening, as it is the other’s situation which is relevant, not yours.
The importance of an open attitude was the subject of a previous article. An open attitude is largely your own responsibility. Yet it takes two to tango: You and the other are interdependent; an open attitude is but one side of the coin. If the other doesn’t tell you anything, you have nothing to listen to! In other words, listening is a collaboration and requires some form of interaction in what is called the collaborative relationship. In this relationship the other will need to be stimulated to be vulnerable, unless it is your aim only to talk about the weather! So next to your personal characteristics (including an unknowing and curious attitude), you will need to activate and stimulate interaction with the other. In this article I introduce the basics of this collaborative relationship and your role in its creation, in another article I will delve a little deeper into the subject. For now, let’s begin with the ideas of unconditional positive regard, congruence and empathy and how those three may be used to build this relationship.
A skill is more than just knowledge; it is knowledge applied effectively using specific behaviour. Behaviour can be learnt, and is perfected by practice. We who work with people love talking, and can easily be seduced into long discussions about strategies and techniques – while talking about, we aren’t fully learning. It is only when we experience how a technique works that it becomes part of our toolkit. An ideal way to practice is via role-plays. In this short article I discuss how to make these role-plays more effective.