What does ‘reflecting feelings’ mean in the context of life coaching?

Life Coaching Blog

The more that you practise the art of life coaching the better you’ll get at discerning how your clients are feeling. Reflecting feelings is like using a mirror to shine the person’s feelings back at them. This is called mirroring and you basically use the same keywords that the person has spoken and shine that back to them. Paraphrasing is when you try to encapsulate what the person says by using different words.

Both reflecting feelings and paraphrasing involves mirroring. And while the language of feeling does not consist of words one uses words to try to explain feelings. Imagine paraphrasing the fact that the person says “I’m okay” by using “So you’re alright then” but completely ignoring the fact that the person is about to burst into tears. So, unfortunately, sometimes paraphrasing can be misleading.

What reflecting feelings is all about

When you reflect feelings you are embracing yourself in what the client is experiencing as well as what his emotions are. Life coaches should be careful not to distinguish between the client’s thoughts and feelings inadequately. The way that sentences are structured and the words that are used could make you misconstrue a feeling for thought.

For instance, a client may say “I feel that women are discriminated against in the workplace”. That’s a thought and not a feeling even though the word ‘feel’ was used. Whereas “I feel so frustrated when I see my boss getting away with sexual harassment” describes a feeling.

Both life coach and client require skills when it comes to reflecting feelings:

Receiver skills

The receiver of the message needs to understand the other person’s body language, his vocal cues and his verbal messages. He needs to tune into the flow of the other person’s emotional reactions and take the context of the message, which he’s hearing, into account. He needs to try and discern the underlying meaning of the other person’s message.

Sender skills

The sender of the message needs to respond in ways that pick up on the receiver’s feelings, phrases and words. He needs to reword or express his feelings appropriately so that the receiver can fully comprehend the message. He needs to use vocal cues and body language that is appropriate to the message in order not to confuse the receiver. He needs to check that the receiver has understood what he has meant.

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Tips for life coaches about how to reflect feelings

Here are a few tips for life coaches about the best way of reflecting feelings:

  • Capture the gist of the client’s feelings when you’re reflecting the message back to the client. First, try to decode the total message and then try to respond with something that contains the crux of what the client was saying. Mention the main feeling first when you respond. Find it and highlight it in your reflection.
  • Keep It Simple. If you can, keep the reflection concise.
  • Support your reflection with relevant vocal cues and appropriate body language if necessary. If you’re reflecting a message of sadness, for instance. Let your face and eyes show some pain.
  • Make sure that you understand what the client has communicated. There are variables in every situation. Your client may not have expressed himself well or you might not feel confident yet in your ability to comprehend the client’s message. Your reflection should contain some kind of a check as to whether you’ve understood the client’s internal point of view.

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