My girlfriend and I usually do very well communicating with each other. But recently we went through a period where we were struggling. What happened was that I was sharing about some of my challenges with her, and she thought that she understood what I was saying, but I didn’t feel understood. And communication breaks down if one or both people don’t feel understood, regardless of whether or not they actually are.
After we struggled for awhile, I remembered a communication technique called “reflective listening,” which I had read about many years ago in Dr. Thomas Gordon’s book, Parent Effectiveness Training. In reflective listening, the listener mirrors the speaker’s mood and restates what the speaker said in her (or his) own words. If the restatement doesn’t accurately summarize what the speaker said, he (or she) lets the listener know, and the process is repeated until the speaker is satisfied that the listener understands him (you can learn more about reflective listening here.
I suggested that we try using reflective listening. Mary Ellen was very willing to do that, and when we did, I felt that she truly understood my challenges that I had been telling her about.
With that success in mind, it occurred to me that reflective listening could help many people with chronic illnesses with one of their main frustrations, which is getting their family members and their friends to understand how hard it is for them to live with their illness (I know this is one of their main frustrations because because of my own experience having a chronic illness, and also because a high percentage of clients mention it in the questionnaire I give them before their first coaching session).
Because reflective listening involves mirroring the speaker’s mood as well as summarizing what he or she is saying, I think that using the technique would greatly help others to understand what it’s like for us to live with a chronic illness. So I recently started suggesting to my clients that they learn reflective listening, use it with friends and family both as a way to become better at it and also for the purpose of demonstrating it to them, and then ask those friends and family members if they would be willing to try using reflective listening with them.
I haven’t heard back yet from my clients about how well my suggestion has worked, but I am hopeful that by using it they will get a lot more understanding from others about what it’s like to live with a chronic illness than they previously had. And if you decided to give this idea a try, I hope it works well for you – and I would greatly appreciate hearing about your results in a comment to this post.