Reflective Listening

speak with people Jun 03, 2024
The Magic of Listening Between the Lines




I studied journalism in school and worked in agency and corporate communications for over 15 years. Along the way, I learned how to craft clear messages, understand my audience and adapt to different communications styles. Yet it was the art of coaching that taught me one of the most valuable communication lessons of all:

The power of reflective listening.

When I say coaching, I'm not referring to sports coaching. The kind of coaching I’m referring to is the one that’s like therapy. Except instead of mining for answers in the past, coaches focus conversations on what a client wants for their future and what steps they need to take now to get there.

For three years, I was a client. Karen was my coach. We met weekly over video for 30-minute sessions that felt like magic. I would log into each session grappling with a challenge. By the end of each session, it was abundantly clear to me what I needed to do to move forward.

I marveled at Karen’s ability to help me find clarity. How did she do it?!

The answer, I discovered, lay in the practice of reflective listening – actively hearing not just the words someone speaks, but also the emotions behind them, and then reflecting those back.

In my coaching sessions with Karen, she would often paraphrase my thoughts and feelings, saying things like, "What I'm hearing is..." or "It sounds like you're feeling..." By mirroring my words back to me with empathy, Karen created a space for me to find my own answers.

Karen never told me what to do. Instead, she helped me feel truly heard while empowering me to discover my own path forward.




As I delved deeper into the world of coaching, I realized reflective listening is a skill we can all apply in our personal and professional lives. Here are some key takeaways for me:

  1. Focus on understanding not just others’ words, but the feelings behind them. Body language tells a story!
  2. When someone shares a challenge they’re facing, resist the urge to offer immediate solutions. Instead, create a safe space for others to explore their own emotions.
  3. Use clarifying questions to reflect back what you've seen and heard. This helps others feel understood and enables them to process their experiences.

When done effectively, reflective listening can help us gain new insights, reframe challenges and discover solutions we may not have considered before. It's a powerful tool for building trust, fostering deeper connections and supporting others on their journeys of self-discovery.

Today, I use reflective listening to better understand the people in my life – from friends and family to clients of a new business I started up this year. Every time I see someone experience that moment of clarity, I'm reminded of the magic that can happen when we truly listen to one another.


By Liz Coffey - Founder, On Leave Experiences

Liz left the corporate world, earned a coaching certification herself and started On Leave Experiences to completely reimagine how women approach self-care. She uses reflective listening to help her create meaningful experiences that empower women to rediscover their authentic selves. Learn more at