Listening skills: active listening and emotional reflection

The listening skills of emotional reflections, attentive behavior and active listening are discussed. We communicate all day long. An important communication skill is listening. Nothing seems easier than that. Yet many people fall short in this area and sometimes experience it themselves. Really listening to what someone has to say requires us to be able to hold our attention, to distinguish between main and secondary issues and to respond appropriately to what is said.

Listening skills

  • Active listening
  • Non-selective listening skills and selective listening skills
  • Attentive behavior
  • Eye contact
  • Making gestures
  • Body posture and body position
  • Giving emotional reflections
  • Taking feelings seriously
  • Incentive to tell more


Active listening during a therapy session / Source: Wavebreakmedia/

Active listening

Listening is not only important when listening to a lecture, but it is also a very important skill for good communication between people. A conversation with a colleague, a customer, your subordinate or your manager involves a process of active listening. It is not only important that you hear the other person, but also that you understand the other person’s message. By applying listening skills you let your conversation partner know that you are listening to him and you create the opportunity to explore the topic of conversation further. Active listening includes the following four skills:

  • attentive behavior;
  • provide emotional reflections;
  • paraphrase; and
  • to summarize.

In this article we will discuss the first two skills. The listening skills of paraphrasing and summarizing are discussed in a separate article.

Non-selective listening skills and selective listening skills

A distinction is often made between non-selective and selective listening skills. With non-selective listening skills you follow the narrator and you exert little or no influence on the conversation and with selective listening skills you choose to pay extra attention to some parts of the conversation. With non-selective listening skills you show the narrator that you are listening attentively, through both verbal and non-verbal behavior: facial expression, eye contact, body posture and encouraging gestures. With selective listening skills you ask questions (open or closed; related or new), you paraphrase (briefly state what the narrator has said in your own words), you provide an emotional reflection (the listener tries to understand how the other person feels or felt), let the other person concretize (let the other person tell something as accurately and precisely as possible), and occasionally summarize (part of) the conversation (summarizing feelings and summarizing content).


Attentive behavior

It is important that the other person feels and notices that you are paying attention to him and his story and that you encourage the other person to continue telling the story. You can pay attention both verbally and non-verbally while listening. Verbal means with your voice and non-verbal means with your body.

You can pay attention to what your conversation partner is saying in the following non-verbal ways:

  1. eye contact;
  2. gestures;
  3. body posture and position.


Eye contact

It is important for good contact that you have eye contact with your conversation partner. If you don’t look at him enough, he will get the feeling that you are not paying attention to him. If all goes well, you should not look away during the conversation as long as the other person is speaking. All the while you continue to look at your conversation partner. If you don’t do this, there is a danger that the other person will wonder whether you find his story interesting.

Making gestures

By making gestures you can encourage your conversation partner to continue talking and tell his story. For example, nodding or a hand gesture.

Body posture and body position

The distance between the conversation partners is important for a conversation. 15-50 cm is too intimate a distance and between 120-400 cm we do more impersonal business. The personal distance is between 50-75 cm. The further away, the less sympathetic and more uninviting the atmosphere becomes. You should also pay attention to your posture. Adopt an approachable, inviting attitude. Sit upright and adopt an open posture. Do not slouch, because such a position shows disinterest. Also do not sit with your arms and legs crossed, because that is a closed, defensive position.

Remember that your posture must be congruent with what you are saying!

Small encouragements allow you to pay verbal attention to what your conversation partner is saying. With small encouragements or minimal verbal activity, we can think of humming and saying ‘yes’, or ‘yes, yes’, or ‘oh’. They have the function of reinforcement and encouragement and they encourage the other person to continue talking. The psychologist Carl Rogers became known for this approach. The above-mentioned nodding also falls under small encouragements.

Giving emotional reflections

Taking feelings seriously

By giving a feeling reflection you show that you have an eye for the other person and take their feelings seriously. With a feeling reflection you express in your own words the feelings that are reflected or expressed in the words or posture of the other person.

,I can tell that you are very angry, but I don’t know exactly what is bothering you.,

When displaying or mirroring the other person’s feeling, the right feeling, with the right tone and the right intensity is displayed. You check whether you have understood the other person correctly and whether the other person feels accepted and taken seriously. Naming the other person’s feelings can be extremely relieving for him.

,Yes indeed, I’m really angry. Pffff.,

Incentive to tell more

He is encouraged to continue and tell his story. In a conversation, not only factual, business information is important, but also the other person’s feelings. A human is not a robot. Through adequate emotional reflection, the other person feels understood and is encouraged to explore his situation or theme further. In countless situations, expressing good feelings can be useful, because you show the other person that you listen to his story, which makes him feel understood.

When giving an emotional reflection, pay close attention to the body language, expression and facial expression of your conversation partner, so that you do not miss the mark . You are not supposed to speculate and guess about his feelings. A misplaced reflection of feelings can cause a lot of damage in the contact. Trust comes on foot and goes on horseback.

read more

  • 4 aspects or characteristics of message (communication)
  • Listening skills: listening, paraphrasing and summarizing
  • Motivational interviewing / motivational interviewing (MI)
  • Motivational interviewing: motivational interviewing techniques
  • Paradoxical communication/paradoxical behavior: sender-receiver