reflective listening Speaker Phone Etiquette: "Reflective Listening" is a No-No

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 Reflective Listening and the Speaker Phone...

I remember an old phrase "I don’t chew my cabbage twice". It means, “I don’t want to repeat myself!”

Well, I don’t chew my cabbage twice– and I certainly don’t want someone else to chew it for me!

That’s what reflective listening is: someone else chewing your cabbage. And in a time in history where our technology requires that we frequently scream “Can You Hear Me Now?”....isn’t it time to stop using oh-so-phony techniques like Reflective Listening, and to start really paying attention?

Here’s why:

Earlier this month, I was in a teleconference. Two men were talking to me on speakerphone from their conference room, while I was on a headset.

I thought all was well, but a few minutes after I would say a sentence or two, one of the men would say,

"What I’m hearing you say is...." ....and then he would paraphrase everything that I had just said!

At first, I thought that they might be having problems hearing me, so I started talking much louder!

But he kept up with his paraphrasing! I knew I was getting to the point where I couldn’t talk any louder without screaming.

“It seems like you’re still having trouble hearing me,” I almost screamed.

“No, we can hear you just fine,” they both said with bewilderment.

It was at that point I realized that the one fellow was using “Reflective Listening” skills. In “Reflective Listening”, you listen to what the other person says, paraphrase it in your own words, and parrot it back to them. According to some elderly psychologists, this little charade makes the person you’re talking to feel like “they’ve been heard and understood.”

Obviously, it had the exact opposite effect on me. I felt unheard and misunderstood.

And I also felt annoyed. I felt that his he was using the technique to show what a clever lad he was, and to drive up billable hours – all while under the pretext of being a caring, sensitive guy!

Those who engage in “Reflective Listening” techniques might want to remember that and learn to say these timeless classics:

“Uh, huh.”
“I hear you.”
“I understand.”

These are phrases that make me feel like I’ve truly been heard and understood!

And no, paraphrasing doesn’t make me feel like “I’ve been understood.” I didn’t really get the feeling that the guy was really paying attention to what I was saying. How could he, when his brain was busy editing my words while I was speaking? He wasn’t being fully present.

Reflective Listening isn’t really listening at all.

Copyright © 1999-20074
Last modified: October 14, 2004

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