"reflective vs. reactive communication" in white text on a blue background accompanied by a yellow thought bubble and a grey text bubble with an exclamation point in it

by Parker Stephenson | 2 Minute Read

As an Agile & Executive Coaching Consultant, I am often asked, “why do transformations fail?” or “why is this team not performing the way they should?” To be honest, failure often comes down to communication. In today’s new ways of working, there is a lot more that plays a part in success vs. failure than ever before. The tools, resources, and styles of communication are almost countless now. With that being said, I still tend to observe things coming down to the same two principles of thought: are you looking to be reactive or reflective in your communication approach? As I think about reactive and reflective approaches to communication, I am reminded of a quote by Stephen Covey that conveys this challenge very well:

an image with the text "The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply. Stephen Covey"

If we talk about topics like the types of leadership styles, we can clearly see parallels to communication approaches emerge. a yellow balance scale with a blue thought bubble on one side and a grey speaking bubble on the other sideFor instance, if you are a more empathetic leader or individual, you are more likely to “seek to understand” with a reflective stance vs. someone who may be a more directive leader or individual who is more likely to listen to respond quickly in a reactive state. Don’t get me wrong, we can find ourselves needing to balance these two approaches from time to time, but the key word here is balance. Below are some leading practices to consider when building your communication stance:

  1. Seek to come from a place of curiosity when needing to be reflective. Listen with an empathetic ear to understand what is truly being asked or needed of you.
  2. Come from a non-biased position. Understanding where your implicit bias may be in certain situations may hold you back from seeing the perspective of those around you, which can potentially cloud your decision-making abilities.
  3. Assume positive intent. This attribute can help de-escalate tense situations, especially when you are in a virtual setting. It’s often very difficult to “read a room” when you aren’t physically in one.
  4. Work to be fact-based instead of feeling-based. As a Coach, it is important for me to never tell someone how to feel, but rather make fact-based decisions.

Understanding what type of listener you are can have an impact on both personal and professional relationships. The techniques above highlight just a few approaches you can take in starting to not only think differently but also do and listen differently as well. Please note that shifting a mindset into a behavior takes time and practice, so work on building and using that muscle as part of a new (or renewed) listening challenge. You just may come out a better leader when you do!