≡ Menu

If Cornered – Reflect

A couple talking at sunset
Image by Elsie esq.

This is a rule of thumb for counselors – “if all else fails; reflect”. That is if you are getting nowhere trying to help the other person, just let them know that you here what they are saying: reflect back to them what they are saying. The idea is, instead of making suggestions or giving advice to say something like, “So, you’re saying that . . . ” or “If I’m hearing you you’re feeling . . . right now”.

This can be very useful to those of us who aren’t counselors. There was an incident the other day that reminded me about how useful this rule of thumb can be, so I’ll re-tell it for you.

My friend, who we’ll call Ms. A, rang her sister-in-law who is separated from her husband and has the care of their two children, who we’ll call Jack (age 5) and Jill (age 8). The husband is not real supportive and only has the children part of each weekend. After talking to her sister-in-law Ms. A also spoke to the kids. The children had just spent part of the day at their father’s. Jack told Ms A that he didn’t like Daddy and that Daddy was mean. Jack had wanted a ham sandwich for lunch and Daddy had made him have a honey sandwich instead; even though there was ham in the fridge.

Ms A found herself in a difficult position. She didn’t want to buy into an argument. She didn’t want to criticise the father to the children – it wasn’t going to help her sister-in-law. And it wouldn’t help the children’s relationship with their father for Jack to perhaps say to his father, “Well Aunty A says you’re mean too!”.

What Ms A was very clever. She used reflection. She said something like, “Daddy didn’t give you what you wanted and now your sad and upset”. Jack said, “Yes, and . . .”, and talked about how he was feeling. This helped the relationship between Jack and Ms A and avoided her getting caught up in any relationship dramas with Jack’s father.

Reflection is a very useful option to remember in those times where we feel put on the spot. It can not only get us out of feeling cornered, it can do this in a way that moves the relationship deeper.

Are there times when you have used reflection? Are there times when you think it would be useful to use it? Let me know in the comments.

If you liked this post you might also like these posts:
Connecting with the Emotion
How to Listen to Someone

You can sign up for my free email course on health by leaving a comment on this post. The course is called Designing and Long and Healthy Life – it is 12 emails delivered over 6 weeks and covers all aspects of health (the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social).

I'm Evan Hadkins. To find out how to live a more satisfying life you can download my manifesto on living authentically. It is a book of exercises to guide you to finding, nourishing and living from the core of who you are.

If you would like me to write about some aspect of living an authentic life please don't hesitate to get in touch. There is a box in the sidebar where you can leave a question anonymously if you wish, or you can email me, use the contact page, or comment on this post.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on StumbleUpon
{ 4 comments… add one }
  • isabella mori 2008/08/20, 4:01 am

    one of the interesting things about blogging is that it almost invariably encourages reflection. maybe reflection of different depths for different people but reflection nevertheless. it’s hard to put pen to paper/fingers to keyboard on a regular basis and NOT reflect, at least once in a while.

    even, i’ve sent an award your way, here: http://www.moritherapy.org/article/just-brilliant/

  • Evan 2008/08/21, 10:17 am

    Hi Isabella,

    I think that is one reason I love blogging – that it encourages me to reflect.

    And thanks for the award. I’ll try and get on with giving out some of my own in the next day or two.

  • Patrick 2008/08/25, 10:10 am

    I know in the past I have used this technique in an emergency when someone is highly confrontational and emotional, and it feels like back-peddling. Sometimes the other person is very clear on what they want from you–maybe for you to agree, or to take some certain action, or whatever. In those cases, sometimes they see right through reflection and can see that you are trying to stall them or buy time or simply calm them down.

    Any suggestions for situations like that, and how you can diffuse their emotions while not seem like you are just placating them? I could really use a hint on this one for situations I encounter at my work! Thanks in advance for any input you can give me on this….

  • Evan 2008/08/25, 10:54 am

    Hi Patrick,

    Yes, it is back-pedalling – to give yourself a bit of time and space.

    When they ‘see through’ reflection as a strategy you can usually talk to them about what they want and whether you can help them with it.

    Usually it will help if they know that you are in touch with their emotion.

    So, as a vast generalisation, what I would do is something like:
    Let them know that you understand how strongly they are feeling what they are feeling;
    See if they are clear about what they want
    If not help them clarify
    If so talk about whether you can and want to help them get it.
    Usually – if they know you are in touch with their emotion and understand what they want – it is possible to have a discussion.

    Hope this helps.

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge