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Reflective Listening. June 2006. Guidelines on Using This Document. Accompli is committed to sharing resources among the community of change leaders The material in this document has been developed and is copyrighted by Accompli

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Reflective Listening

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guidelines on using this document
Guidelines on Using This Document
  • Accompli is committed to sharing resources among the community of change leaders
  • The material in this document has been developed and is copyrighted by Accompli
  • In some cases, we have adapted source material with insights gained during engagements with multiple organizations initiating transformative change
  • To discuss use of any of our materials, please contact
  • Listening is at least half of communication, and is almost always the culprit in communication problems
  • What’s in the way of effective listening? Our mental habits, such as:
    • Analyzing, evaluating, judging what is being said
    • Concentrating on what we want to say - to add, rebut, or comment
    • “Going” someplace else: what’s for dinner, what’s on the desk, how we feel, etc.
  • Instead of listening to them, we’re listening to our own thoughts
  • We’re stuck in our “Internal World”
  • Seeing the mechanics of our “Internal Word” lets us choose to listen in a way that fosters effective communication
reflective listening4

Reflective Listening

“Internal World” Process

The mental mechanics at work behind conversations

Three Modes of Listening

Making choices to improve communication results

Final Thoughts

internal world process6
“Internal World” Process


Internal World

External World

  • Point of View
  • Interpretation
  • Meaning
  • Speaking happens in the external world
  • But listening happens in our internal world
  • Our thinking - point of view - filters what we hear, interprets

the speaking, and creates meaning

internal world process7


“Internal World” Process

The “Archives”

  • Each person has his or her own mental “Archives,” which act as
      • The source of our point of view
      • The filter creating our reality
      • The filter for our thinking…and our listening
internal world process8
“Internal World” Process

In the Archives: Records, Records, Records….

  • Everything we recognize...
  • Everything we know...
  • Experience, memories, rules, definitions...
  • Paradigms...
  • Points of view, opinions, values, beliefs…
  • Presumptions, assumptions, principles…
internal world process9
“Internal World” Process
  • “Filtering” Gives:
  • Recognition...
  • Definition...
  • Experience...
  • Meaning...
  • Explanation...
  • History...
  • Our Reality - All that We Know
  • Language...
  • Learning…
  • Identity...
  • Opinions...
  • Decisions...
  • What’s Probable...
internal world process10

Good Point


“Internal World” Process

That’s Dumb

How we listen - what we hear - is filtered by our thinking (point of view), our Archives



A shift in our listening can produce real change in behavior and, therefore, results


Modes of Listening: Automatic

  • Examples of Automatic Listening
    • Recognizing anything-Numbers, words, signs
    • Reaction (Automatic Response)
    • To a question (What do you think of Volvos?)
    • To a situation (Boss asks you to his office)
  • Auto-pilot (Not “Present”) -Talking with someone, you didn’t hear a word they said
  • Automatic Listening may be appropriate for such things as:
    • Playing Jeopardy • Adhering to laws or social conventions
    • Giving directions • Telling a joke
    • Routine parts of any job…
  • Less or not effective/appropriate for:
    • Solving a problem • Trying to understand or learn
    • Resolving issues • Making decisions
    • Leading or attending a meeting • Organizing a party…

Modes of Listening: Analytical

  • Examples of Analytical Listening:
  • Coming up with alternatives -Kicks in when Automatic Thinking isn’t working
  • Figuring things out, planning - drawing broadly on what you know, such as:
    • Selecting alternatives (Should I buy a Chevy or a Volvo?)
    • Problem-solving (UPS can’t get here today; or, how can we get back on budget?)
    • Handling an unfamiliar situation
  • Analytical listening may be appropriate for such things as:
    • Playing Scrabble or Poker • Organizing a party
    • Compiling a joke book • Watching a political debate
    • Forming judgments • Managing a process...
  • Less or not effective/appropriate for:
    • Creating, inventing • Connecting with people
    • Learning • Leading, coaching
    • Resolving persistent issues, problems • Facilitating a discussion
    • Implementing a process in 3 months when everyone “knows” it will take 6…
modes of listening reflective17
Modes of Listening: Reflective
  • Examples of Reflective Listening:

You are outside your Archives, you see your filtering

    • You see you’re not doing the dishes at home because you don’t feel appreciated
    • You reflect that your boss’s complaint that you are late is also about your commitment
    • You realize that you have not been thinking reflectively

You tap inspiration, creativity, insight - extraordinary, beyond current reality - such as:

    • Non-violent revolution (Ghandi)
    • Land a man on the moon before end of decade (JFK)

You feel open, “present” - External and Internal Worlds connect

  • Reflective Listening may be appropriate for such things as:
    • Creating, inventing • Connecting with people
    • Learning • Understanding/appreciating points of view
    • Resolving persistent issues, problems
    • Leading implementation of a process in 3 months when everyone “knows” it will take 6 …
  • Less or not effective/appropriate for:
    • Routine tasks • Automated activities
modes of listening reflective18
Modes of Listening: Reflective

Benefits of Reflective Listening (partial list)

  • Communicating with appreciation and understanding makes it easier to:
    • Share what we really think; see different points of view, including our own (opinions, judgments, facts, explanations, beliefs, presumptions, etc.)
    • Deepen rapport, strengthening relationships and building trust and respect
    • Explore each other’s thinking, feelings, and behaviors safely
    • Make our views more visible and accessible to others
  • Creativity, insights help us see beyond the current reality and:
    • Learn valuable information that is outside of the current scope of what we know and hold to be true for ourselves
    • Consider new points of view, actions, and behaviors
    • Achieve previously “impossible” results
  • Freedom from “truth,” assessment, and the past facilitate:
    • Greater sense of harmony, freedom, and connection
    • Clarity of purpose and intent, knowing your own mind, a quieter Internal World
    • Possibility to create new futures
accessing reflective listening20
Accessing Reflective Listening

1. Commit to Listening (Reflectively)

2. Clear Your Mind

3. Ask Questions and Explore

4. Share the Obvious

5. Complete

accessing reflective listening21
1. Commit

If appropriate to the situation, consciously decide to listen in reflective mode

This interrupts your automatic thinking/listening and already initiates a reflective state

Questioning takes you out of your Archives

Noticing your thinking has a free and “choiceful” quality

“Presence” your commitment to listen reflectively

Resolve that you are the sole source of listening, 100% responsible for staying open, clear, connected

Your commitment, which you keep “present” in the background, is your ticket back whenever you lose reflective listening

Hold the background commitment in a way that will guide and inspire, but not so that it runs the show

The commitment is typically in service of a worthy purpose, greater than any personal interest, agenda, “should” or “shouldn’t”

Personal interests, etc. are creatures of our Archives. They are OK; but when they are in play, we are inside our Internal World and not in reflective mode

Reflective listening requires you to be committed and unattached at the same time

The paradox is resolved by being completely committed to a worthy purpose which you hold without self-interest

If appropriate, share your commitment with the other party in the conversation

Accessing Reflective Listening
accessing reflective listening22
2. “Presence” your commitment

Become “present” to your Internal World. Notice your point of view

Any “inner chatter” in your head is from the Archives

See your Automatic or Analytical Listening - be outside your Archives

Look for any point of view (Record) that you may be automatically “inside of” - an opinion, belief, assessment, “fact”, concern, assumption, agenda, want, etc.

Clear your mind completely - let go of your points of view; let go of your Internal World

If the “inner chatter” is loud and persistent, complete or park it. It sometimes helps to acknowledge the thought publicly, taking responsibility for getting clear of it

Ask yourself, “What is coming up in my thoughts?” Continue to let go until your mind is clear

As your Internal World shrinks, become “present” to the other person(s)

As you get outside of your filtering, the External World will naturally become present

You are now listening reflectively - connected to both the External and Internal Worlds

Caution: presencing a commitment can devolve into driving an agenda or point of view

The difference between being present to commitment and being caught up in point of view is whether you are attached to a desired outcome

Accessing Reflective Listening
accessing reflective listening23
3. Ask questions and explore

Outside your concerns, it is natural to want to ask about the other person’s world

“Can you run me through your thinking? How do you see things playing out?”

“What are the key facts that you see? What was your past experience?”

Absorb the other person and their view, their world

Because you are outside your Archives, you can hear complaints, opinions, strongly held “truths,” and even strong emotions as views. Their view is a view; your view is a view; there are lots of possible views

Appreciate how things look from their perspective, which is behind their behavior and actions

Contribute and explore your own views as possible views, or as opinions, beliefs, assumptions, “truths,” presumptions, etc. that you can see you have had

Because you are not coming from “knowing” or “truth,” what you share will most likely be heard

Your willingness to question, discover, and learn will likely evoke a similar mode in the other person

Remain in the exploration mode until you reach clarity, or until fresh thoughts (insights, new ideas, “a-has”) begin to emerge

Notice if you are “filtering;” that’s the Archives pulling you back into automatic or analytical mode

You will know that you have achieved clarity when you no longer have any questions

If at any point you notice yourself analyzing, judging, or arguing, return to Step 2

Clear your mind again

Accessing Reflective Listening
accessing reflective listening24
4.Share the obvious

Creativity, insights, breakthroughs, and entirely new ways of looking at things are a natural result of reflective mode

You are “outside” what you already know (your Archives), yet those views are still available

You are open to the other person’s views

And you are both free to generate entirely new views in the communication

When you have insights, new ideas,“a-has,” it may feel natural/obvious to share them

You will know that you are experiencing insights, new ideas, and “a-has” by the inherent freshness that accompanies them; they carry a certain level of energy and excitement

The more openly you own and share your “humanity” - your fears, mistakes, feelings, judgments held as “true,” agendas, personal assessments, hopes, and hurts - the more connected and richer the conversation will become

Sharing ideas and possibilities back and forth can generate wholly new ways of looking at things - creating exciting possibilities for the future

Sharing is not view- or agenda-based. It is natural, unfiltered, and connected communication that builds trust and relationship

Sharing what one truly thinks is a generous act

If you notice yourself judging, rebutting, etc., you are no longer listening reflectively

See “Clues” page that follows Step 5

Accessing Reflective Listening
accessing reflective listening25
5. Complete

Allow communication to progress naturally; do not try to control the outcome

Control is a personal agenda, and not an aspect of reflective listening

Any commitments you hold in the background will sufficiently guide communication

Whatever is appropriate will usually occur naturally. You are open, connected, and present, so there will be natural harmony, appropriateness, and spontaneity

Reflective Listening usually leads to a meeting of the minds; a natural completion to the communication will become obvious

When you look, there is nothing further to explore or share. You are complete

Acknowledgement and appreciation may be a part of completion

Proceed as appropriate, possibly including:

Summarize insights, agreements, or future directions

Make requests or promises

Plan or schedule next steps

Accessing Reflective Listening
accessing reflective thinking
Accessing Reflective Thinking
  • Clues that you are not in reflective mode:
    • You want to control the outcome
    • You feel anger, frustration, unease, fear, etc. in yourself
    • You hold as true any negative view of the other person
    • You miss what was said
    • You interrupt or jump ahead
    • The other person feels judged or not heard
    • You are stuck in your “truth,” or what is “right”
  • Noticing the clue may be enough to bring you back (i.e., re-presence your commitment to reflective listening)
  • If not, by yourself (silently) or working with the other person:
    • Acknowledge the lapse in listening
    • Identify the thought that is displacing listening
    • Let go of that point of view
    • Recommit and continue listening
final thoughts28
Final Thoughts...
  • Reflective mode is not “good”. Automatic/Analytical modes are not “bad”.
    • Each has its place. Mostly we’re on automatic - recognizing, reacting, and doing
    • The power is in bringing forth reflective thinking/listening at times when it serves you
  • Reflective Mode isn’t something you have or know. It is created.
    • If you “know,” you are in the Archives; how can you learn or see new views? Knowing is OK; it’s just not reflective mode
    • Reflective Mode is outside the Archives. It is consciously letting go of what we “know;” this allows for understanding, insight, creativity, connection, relationship, and growth
  • If the situation requires reflective listening, yet you cannot clear your mind - i.e., a thought persists and you cannot complete it, let it go, or park it:
    • Consider postponing the interaction until you can get clear
    • Consider asking someone to help you identify the source of the persistent thought
  • Reflective listening takes practice and commitment
    • Automatic and Analytical are typically our default modes
    • Practice will build “muscle.” The thinking and commitment required to be outside our Internal World, seeing our own views, builds muscle for sustaining Reflective Mode