How To Practice Reflective Listening (With Examples)

By Abby McCain
Aug. 23, 2022
Skills Based Articles

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There is a reason why people spend four or more years of higher education studying communication techniques and theories, and it’s because effective communication is a difficult skill to master. However, it’s vital to building and maintaining relationships, solving problems, and even accomplishing tasks in and outside of the workplace.

Ironically, one of the most important parts of effective communication is effective listening, and there are many techniques for doing this well. One of these is reflective listening.

Key Takeaways:

  • Reflective listening is the act of processing what the speaker has said and repeating back their idea, which includes both thoughts and feelings.

  • Reflective listening helps the speaker feel heard. It also has the added benefit of allowing the speaker to better process their thoughts and feelings.

  • You can perform reflective listening either through mirroring or paraphrasing.

  • Reflective listening should be non-judgmental and without unsolicited advice.

How To Practice Reflective Listening (With Examples)

What Is Reflective Listening?

Reflective listening is the practice of repeating a paraphrased version of the speaker’s message back to them. The message includes more than just the words the speaker communicates. It also includes any emotions they’re expressing.

As a reflective listener, your goal is to help the speaker hear their own thoughts and encourage them to keep talking. This is different from other conversations where you might listen to the speaker and then respond by adding in new information or a related anecdote.

It’s also different from asking the speaker questions, as that guides them instead of simply hearing them out and allowing them to process their thoughts and feelings as they flow.

The Value of Reflective Listening

Reflective listening is important for several reasons.

  1. It helps the speaker feel heard. There is power in feeling like someone truly hears you. By reflecting on what the speaker shared back to them, they’ll feel that you really are listening and that you understand what they’re trying to say.

    Using this technique instead of asking questions or talking about yourself also shows that you’re still engaged and that you want them to continue talking.

  2. It lets the speaker think out loud. Many people are wired to process verbally instead of processing internally. By saying what they’re thinking about out loud, their thoughts can flow, allowing the person to begin to make a decision, find a solution, or find emotional relief.

    This is a perfectly healthy way to process, so being someone who will let them do this without trying to fix or redirect their ideas is valuable.

  3. It allows the speaker to get distance from their thoughts. Just as many people journal in order to get their thoughts where they can physically see them and make them easier to sort through, reflective listening allows speakers to physically hear their thoughts and feelings so that they can do the same thing.

    As the listener, sometimes paraphrasing what they said can help them hear themselves and fully identify the emotion or problem they’re struggling with.

  4. It helps you truly listen. No matter how invested you are in a conversation; it can be difficult to stay fully engaged and focused, especially when someone else is doing the majority of the sharing.

    Because of this, using reflective listening techniques can help you track what they’re saying and prevent your mind from wandering or from focusing on what you’re going to say next.

    When you’re able to listen effectively, you’re able to understand more fully, deepening your empathy and relationship with the person you’re listening to.

How to Practice Reflective Listening

There are two main ways to practice reflective listening: mirroring and paraphrasing. The line between these two techniques is blurry, so you’ll likely start to see them as more of a spectrum than separate practices as you use them.

Knowing the differences between them can help you get started and grow in your reflective listening, though.


Mirroring is the most basic version of reflective listening, as you simply repeat the main words or last sentence the speaker spoke, kind of like you would if someone was speaking, got distracted, and then asked, “Where was I?”

With this technique, less is more, though, as you don’t want to turn it into the copycat game you played in elementary school.

Instead, simply affirm the person as they speak by nodding and using verbal cues like, “Uh-huh,” “mm,” and “that makes sense.” If they pause and are looking for feedback, try mirroring a few words or phrases to keep it going.


Paraphrasing is the more complicated of the two techniques, but it can also be more powerful.

It uses the same principle of mirroring in that the goal is only to reflect what the speaker is saying instead of adding your own thoughts, but instead of repeating words and phrases, you use your own words.

This technique shows that you truly understand what the speaker is saying and actively helps them process their thoughts and emotions.

Using this technique effectively takes practice to help it feel more natural and allow you to get good at reading other people’s emotions instead of just listening to their words.

Steps for Reflective Listening

Reflective listening is a pretty straightforward process once you learn the basics. Understand that you should always adapt your reflective listening to the situation. Depending on the person or environment, you may need to make adjustments.

However, in most cases, the steps for reflective listening are:

  1. Listen for cues. Listen to what the speaker is saying. In particular, listen for cues in content, feelings, and context. This information will tell you where the speaking is coming from and lead to you empathize with their situation.

  2. Analyze. Take in what was said and sort it out in your mind. Determine what are the thoughts and feelings of the speaker. Make sure to be as objective as possible and avoid relying on your biases.

  3. Conclude and reflect back. Draw a conclusion to what the speaker has said and reflect it back to them. Summarize what they have said using either mirroring or paraphrasing and try to convey the thoughts and feelings of the speaker.

  4. Confirm. It doesn’t do any good to simply reflect back at the speaker. Make sure what you said was correct to help you continue with the conversation.

With these steps in mind, you can go ahead and use reflective listening to make your conversations more meaningful and impactful.

Examples of Reflective Listening

Often in reflective listening, you’ll hear (or say) phrases like these:

  • “So you feel…”

  • “It sounds like you…”

  • “You’re wondering if..”

  • “For you, it’s like…”

Of course, you aren’t limited to just these phrases, but they’re good examples of the tone you should be using.

Here are some specific examples of reflective listening:

  1. Speaker:

    “This is the third major project that my boss assigned to Marcia instead of me. I feel like I’ve done a good job on the projects I have, and I’ve been here for three years now, so I don’t know why I’m not getting more of these opportunities.”


    “It sounds like you’re worried if you’re doing a good job or not and frustrated that your hard work doesn’t seem to be paying off.”

  2. Speaker:

    “Our team has been falling behind on our deliverables for this contract. We’ve been improving on quality, but our pace has slowed down, and the customer wants high-quality products fast.”


    “You’re wondering how to pull your team out of a lose-lose situation.”

  3. Speaker:

    “Tom just keeps messaging me with questions and tasks all day and then wonders why I haven’t been getting my other work done. Then when I do get it done, he comes back with more questions and corrections on it.”


    “So you’re frustrated because you feel like your boss doesn’t trust you to do your job and micromanages you.”

Tips for Effective Reflective Listening

Reflective listening is a valuable skill to have, but it does take a certain amount of finesse to use it effectively. Here are a few tips to help you with this.

  1. Practice. The key to truly being proficient at reflective listening is practicing until it’s second nature. If you can’t do it in a natural and seemingly effortless way, you’re going to be more distracting than helpful.

    To practice, ask a friend to help you out and try it as they talk to you. Once you finish, ask for feedback and then switch roles.

    In real-world conversations, try just one reflective comment so that you get used to it and aren’t distracting by trying to squeeze one in after every thought the speaker shares.

  2. Keep it simple. When you’re reflecting back to the speaker, don’t try to make it too complicated. Stick with brief words and phrases, and keep it to a single thought at a time.

    When you’re looking for what to reflect on, find one of the speaker’s main thoughts and restate it as simply as you can.

    This will help keep you from redirecting the conversation or projecting something that the speaker wasn’t saying or thinking at all.

  3. Read body language before and after you speak. Before you speak, you should be listening to both the person’s spoken language and body language. This can help you better grasp what they’re really trying to say.

    After you speak, keep watching and listening for the person’s response. Did they light up when you spoke because you truly understood what they were saying? Or did they hesitate because that wasn’t actually what they meant, and they just don’t want to correct you?

    If the latter is the case, give them an out or an opportunity to explain what they really meant.

  4. Don’t be too strict. While there are communication “rules” and techniques, use them as guidelines, not law. After all, the purpose of communication is to connect with the other person, so adjust your approach based on the person, the situation, and your communication styles.

    For example, you would probably speak differently to your mom than you would speak to a coworker, so change your tactics accordingly.

  5. Don’t add anything new to the speaker’s message. Remember, your goal here is to reflect what they say in order to truly understand what they’re trying to communicate, not to correct it or communicate your opinion.

    Plus, building on the speaker’s meaning too much puts you at a higher risk of derailing the whole conversation by reflecting on the wrong point. This isn’t the end of the world by any means, but it isn’t effective listening because you’ve missed the point the speaker was actually trying to make.

  6. Keep an open mind. Remember, the purpose of the reflective listening technique is to understand the point of view of the person speaking.

    As they talk, don’t get caught up in creating mental arguments or writing off points that you don’t agree with. Even if you don’t verbally express your disagreement, if that’s all that you’re focusing on, that will still come through to the speaker.

    There is a time and place for discussing your opinions, but in this case, your goal is to come to a better understanding of the person and to give them room to be heard. You can’t do that if you’re walking into it ready to write them and their opinions and feelings off.

    Plus, if the person needs to process out loud, there’s a good chance that what they’re saying isn’t their true belief or conclusion. They just need to be able to think it through for themselves.

  7. Don’t try to fix it or give unsolicited advice. Again, the purpose of this technique is to allow the speaker to be truly heard. If they want advice or a solution, they’ll ask for it. Your job is to sit and validate them as they talk by helping them process out loud and make sense of their thoughts and feelings.

    Sometimes all a person needs is to release the thoughts that are swirling around in their head in order to move to take action, so all you have to do is listen.

    Then if they do ask for advice, they’ll be all the more willing to listen to it because they know you understand what they’re going through and are empathetic about it.

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Abby McCain

Abby is a writer who is passionate about the power of story. Whether it’s communicating complicated topics in a clear way or helping readers connect with another person or place from the comfort of their couch. Abby attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she earned a degree in writing with concentrations in journalism and business.

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