By: Read Pierce, M.D.
Faculty, The Institute for Healthcare Excellence
Committee Member, The National Taskforce for Humanity in Healthcare

Reflective listening is a vital skill to enhance human connection, make empathy visible to others, and increase the daily experience of positive emotions. Many may be familiar with active listening, which is related to reflective listening. Both approaches to listening require presence (paying full attention to the speaker), conveying attention through body language (eye contact, leaning in, smiling, nodding, etc.), and seeking to truly hear and understand, rather than receiving the speaker’s comments solely to formulate a response. Reflective listening adds two (2) additional, crucial steps. First, the listener does not interrupt, allowing the speaker to finish her full comment or story. Second, before asking questions, making comments, or directing the conversation toward a particular goal, the listener then summarizes what the speaker said, using words and phrases the speaker employed.

Reflective listening is powerful, because it makes transparent things that often go unspoken: 1) I (the listener) am illustrating that I was present and attentive for your entire story; 2) I am validating that I received the key elements of what you told me, offering us a chance to clarify any misunderstandings immediately; and 3) I am demonstrating a commitment to respect, by allowing you (the speaker) to direct your story to its logical conclusion, rather than bending it to my interests by interrupting or asking questions. Practicing reflective listening is an efficient and simple way to amplify positive emotions in human connection, such as curiosity in the listener and validation in the speaker, which often go missing when communication occurs solely for the purposes of information exchange.

The Institute for Healthcare Excellence (IHE) accelerates human-centered culture transformation and sustainable healthcare performance to enhance healing through skills such as reflective listening. To learn more about how you and your organization can incorporate the skill of reflective listening into your daily work visit our website at:

The National Taskforce for Humanity in Healthcare NTH is focused on accelerating an agenda that supports resilience, well-being, and joy in healthcare delivery. The Taskforce, comprised of doctors, nurses, healthcare leaders, and cross-industry allies is on a mission to understand, create and spread strategies that support human connection in all aspects of healthcare, empowering care team members to achieve their highest healing potential.