Would you love to be 20% better at persuasion, improve your chances of landing your dream job or maybe even become more well-liked socially? There is a very simple conversational tactic you can use, and it will help you accomplish these goals. You know what it is, but chances are that you aren’t using it enough. It’s called “reflective listening.”
Reflective listening is the process of reflecting back what the person you are talking with is saying, feeling, aspiring to or worrying about. For example, let’s say you’re talking with someone at lunch and they say, “The energy stocks got hammered again today; my firm insists on staying long in this sector, but I feel it’s time to go in another direction.” You could reflect by saying, “It sounds like you had a hard day, and you feel trapped on a boat that’s going in the wrong direction.” They’ll respond with, “Exactly!” and will appreciate that you cared enough and were confident enough to reflect their emotions.
Too often, people will try to offer a premature solution off the cuff, say something competitive or completely ignore their concerns and try to change the subject. When you reflect what you hear someone say, it makes the other person feel like you are not only respectful and attentive but that you are also empathetic and willing to put yourself in their shoes.
People who feel you understand them are much more likely to listen to your persuasive ideas, hire you for the job of your dreams or want to spend time with you socially. When you reflect, you aren’t asking more probing questions; instead, you’re meeting that person where they are. You’re advancing a conversation on a topic that’s important to them. Reflecting is easier to do, way more powerful and more about building trust and mutual understanding than it is about collecting details.
I didn’t learn this valuable listening tactic from a book, seminar or class. I learned how to fully utilize this while working as a suicide-hotline volunteer during grad school. We weren’t psychologists in this role. The best strategy for helping people decide to not commit suicide was to effectively reflect what they were saying – to genuinely empathize and understand while helping them sort out their goals, concerns and any reasonable next steps.
I encourage all of you to dial up the reflective listening in your professional and personal conversations. You’ll quickly notice improvements in your persuasion skills. It might even seem as if people like you more or gravitate to you more often. They will love your reflection!
Dr. Geoff Smart is the chairman and founder of ghSMART, a leadership consulting firm that exists to help leaders amplify their positive impact on the world. Dr. Smart and his firm have published multiple New York Times best sellers. He stays active in his community and has advised many government officials.
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