Reflective listening is interacting to understand

Reflective listening is interacting to understand[1]

Reflective listening reflects the speaker’s attitudes

Rogers offers two guidelines for clarifications. First, they must be crafted exclusively out of what the client has already said, and second, they must clarify an insight that the client has already had.

Later, Rogers refers to a session transcript that shows how a therapist… specifically mirrors the client’s attitudes, rather than the client’s actual words. In this transcript, the therapist rarely says anything that could be construed as a reflection of the client’s speech.

Rogers and Wallen contend that… only two therapist moves are needed: simple acceptance of the client’s remarks with statements like ‘‘I see’’ or ‘‘yes,’’ and reflection of feeling.

Rogers and Wallen sometimes refers to the client’s feelings, but at other times to so-called emotionalized attitudes. For example, Rogers and Wallen give the example of a client who feels his wife is inconsiderate, and suggests the reflection: ‘‘You feel that she is pretty selfish.’’ This is not exactly a feeling per se, and appears to be an example of what Rogers and Wallen mean by emotionalized attitude.

Reflective listening reflects the listener’s empathy

…the therapist’s attitude is also vitally important. Reflection of feeling, then, is not a technique, but a method of implementing client-centered attitudes of acceptance and understanding.

True empathy, Rogers implies, is inherently provisional. In this respect, reflections of feeling are verbalizations of thoughts that tend to naturally enter the mind of a therapist who maintains an empathic attitude.

When the optimal attitude is achieved, the relationship between the therapist’s inner experience and his or her verbalizations becomes nearly seamless. The therapist simply gives voice to her or his thoughts, which are already empathic.

Rogerian empathy… is an ideal state of exquisitely sensitive moment-to-moment attunement to the client’s flow of experience that is so thoroughly immersive that Rogers goes so far as to call it ‘‘trancelike.’’

He reconceptualizes empathy as an iterative relational process in which the therapist participates, rather than a process occurring within the mind of the therapist. Empathy is a way of being with another person.

Reflective listening is closer understanding

First, every reflection must include an implied question to the client: Is what I am saying now precisely accurate for you? Second, every reflection must include an implied invitation: If what I am saying is not precisely accurate for you, help me revise my perception so that it is closer to your own.

…he suggests that reflections be renamed ‘‘testing understandings’’ or ‘‘checking perceptions.’’ These phrasings are attempts to further transform the reflection of feeling into an interactional concept. Reflection, here, refers not to the therapist’s speech itself, but purely to how it is experienced by the client.

What is to the therapists a messy series of rough approximations appears to the client as a seamless surface of understanding.

Reflective listening recommendations

  1. Reflections should be directed to the emotional essence of what the client has expressed, and/or to the client’s felt sense of their emerging experiencing, rather than to concrete issues.
  2. Reflections must congruently implement therapist attitudes of acceptance and empathy.
  3. Reflections are part of an empathic dialogue. Accordingly, they must include the implicit invitation for the client to check their accuracy with the client’s inner felt experiencing, and to correct them if needed.
  4. Reflections may be safest when sculpted out of material drawn from the client’s remarks, and when they further develop insights that have already begun to emerge in the client, rather than referring to feelings and attitudes that the client has not yet expressed. However, if the empathic dialogue has advanced to the point that client and therapist are in a shared altered state of consciousness (=empathy trance), therapist understandings may emerge naturally as remarks that may appear unrelated to what the client has explicitly said.
  5. To be in a position to effectively use reflections, the therapist may cultivate an empathic frame of mind. If this underlying attitude is absent, reflections may be incongruent and, therefore, are unlikely to be effective.
  6. Reflections are best couched in provisional rather than declarative form [reflections are best when they’re tentative, not authoritative].
  7. Reflections should not interrupt the flow of the client’s process.[2]

  1. Minarik, Susan K. “Can You Hear Me Now? A Positive Guide to Listening Well.” Positive-Living-Now, 4 Sep. 2010, Accessed 1 June 2017.
  2. Arnold, Kyle. “Behind the mirror: Reflective listening and its tain in the work of Carl Rogers.” The Humanistic Psychologist 42.4 (2014): 354-369.

Math notation serves as pointers to both data and procedures

Math notation provides pointers to both data and algorithms all at once.[1]

Math notation works with our limited attention by greatly compressing information

…human brains, though exceedingly complex, are only able to concentrate consciously on a few things at once, requiring a mechanism to cope with the complication:

  • “…early processing is largely parallel – a lot of different activities proceed simultaneously. Then there appear to be one or more stages where there is a bottleneck in information processing. Only one (or a few) ‘object(s)’ can be dealt with at a time. This is done by temporarily filtering out the information coming from the unattended objects. The attentional system then moves fairly rapidly to the next object, and so on, so that attention is largely serial (i.e., attending to one object after another) not highly parallel (as it would be if the system attended to many things at once).”
  • “Mathematics is amazingly compressible: you may struggle a long time, step by step, to work through some process or idea from several approaches. But once you really understand it and have the mental perspective to see it as a whole, there is often a tremendous mental compression. You can file it away, recall it quickly and completely when you need it, and use it as just one step in some other mental process. The insight that goes with this compression is one of the real joys of mathematics.”[2]

Math notation works by being a pointer to both data and procedures at the same time

…process and concept are combined in a single notion… in the working practices of professional mathematicians and all those who are successful in mathematics. They employ the simple device of using the same notation to represent both a process and the product of that process:

  • The symbol 5+4 represents both the process of adding through counting all or counting on and the concept of sum (5+4 is 9).
  • The symbol 4×3 stands for the process of repeated addition “four multiplied by three” which must be carried out to produce the product of four and three which is the number 12.
  • The algebraic symbol 3x+2 stands both for the process “add three times x and two” and for the product of that process, the expression “3x+2”.[1]

  1. Gray, Eddie M., and David O. Tall. “Duality, ambiguity, and flexibility: A ‘proceptual’ view of simple arithmetic.” Journal for Research in Mathematics Education 25.2 (1994): 116-140.
  2. Gray, Eddie, and David Tall. “Abstraction as a natural process of mental compression.” Mathematics Education Research Journal 19.2 (2007): 23-40.

Sentence flow comes from moving each sentence from old information to new

In good sentence flow, the last sentence's closing point becomes the next sentence's subject.[1]

Sentence flow comes from moving from old information to new

Readers follow a story most easily if they can begin each sentence with a character or idea that is familiar to them, either because it was already mentioned or because it comes from the context.

  1. Make the first six or seven words refer to familiar information, usually something you have mentioned before (typically your main characters).
  2. Put at the ends of sentences information that your readers will find unpredictable or complex and therefore harder to understand.

Sentence flow shows when to choose active voice, and when to choose passive voice

Do your sentences begin with familiar information, preferably a main character? If you put familiar characters in your subjects, you will use the active and passive properly.

For example…

11b. The quality of our air and even the climate of the world depend on healthy rain forests in Asia, Africa, and South America. But these rain forests are now threatened with destruction by the increasing demand for more land for agricultural use and for wood products used in construction worldwide.

…the beginning of the second sentence in (11b) picks up on the character introduced at the end of the first sentence…

…the passive allowed us to move the older, more familiar information from the end of its sentence to its beginning, where it belongs.

…that’s the main function of the passive: to build sentences that begin with older information. If we don’t use the passive when we should, our sentences won’t flow as well as they could.

Creating main characters

…be sure that the character is your central character, if only for that sentence.

Express crucial actions in verbs.

When you express actions not with verbs but with abstract nouns, you… clutter a sentence with articles and prepositions. Look at all the articles and prepositions (boldfaced) in (4b) that (4a) doesn’t need:

4a. Having standardized indices for measuring mood disorders, we now can quantify patients’ responses to different treatments.

4b. The standardization of indices for the measurement of mood disorders has now made possible the quantification of patient response as a function of treatment differences.

Make your central characters the subjects of those verbs; keep those subjects short, concrete, and specific.

Complexity last

Put complex bundles of ideas that require long phrases or clauses at the end of a sentence, never at the beginning.

The Quickest Revision Strategy


Make sure that each sentence begins with familiar information, preferably a character you have mentioned before.


Identify your main characters, real or conceptual. Make them the subjects of verbs.

Look for nouns ending in -tion, -ment, -ence, and so on. If they are the subjects of verbs, turn them into verbs.


…the last five or six words in every sentence.

  • technical-sounding words that you are using for the first time
  • the newest, most complex information
  • information that is most emphatic
  • concepts that the next several sentences will develop

…put those words last in the sentence.[2]

  1. Shoch, Keith. “Finding Flow in, 26 Jan. 2013, Accessed 23 Nov. 2016.
  2. Booth, Wayne C., et al. The Craft of Research. 4th ed., University of Chicago Press, 2016. Chapter 17.