Rules for Talking and Listening
Most people are passive listeners. If you intend to become an active listener, you'll need to master two important tools. A famous psychologist named Carl Rogers called them Reflection of Content and Reflection of Feeling. I don't agree with a lot of what Rogers taught, but he hit the nail on the head with this one.
Reflecting a speaker's content means that you listen to the person; then you give him or her feedback that makes it clear you're receiving the factual message—but as you'll see, it ain't all about the facts. Here's an example of someone's getting the information but missing the message:
A: "Sorry I'm late. As I was leaving the house, my dog ran into the street and was hit by a car."
B (reflecting the content): "So your dog got hit by a car?"
B: "Is he dead?"
B: "So what did you do with the dog's body?"
In that example, Person B establishes that Person A has been heard, which addresses a fundamental need for A. But B has clearly missed the point.
To be an active listener in an emotionally relevant situation, B has to do more than just reflect the factual information that A has conveyed. Reflection of feeling tells your partner not just that he's been heard but that you have "plugged into" his life and experienced it in some way, which is essential to his satisfaction. Reflection of feeling sounds like this:
B (reflecting the feeling): "Oh, my gosh—you must feel terrible."
A: "Well, I do. We'd had the dog for 12 years, and my kids really loved him."
B: "I'm sure they must be so upset; I'm sorry you're going through this."
Being able to reflect the feeling, not just the content, is essential to the success of your communication.