Listen or counter-argue: what is more effective in a conversation?

Listen or counter-argue: what is more effective in a conversation?

Let’s be honest. During our daily conversations, we often listen for the purpose of counter-arguing and demonstrating that our point of view is stronger than the one of the other person.

Rarely, we listening to capture what’s behind the words of our counterpart and what’s not being said explicitly.  This art of listening, which aims to understand first, is often referred to as reflective listening or listening with intent.

When we listen with intent, we respectfully give the other person time to raise and describe their argument, without taking sides or strongly defending our point of view.  Moreover, we aim to see their standpoint without passing judgement.

When we truly listen, we genuinely hear and try to gain clarity about the other person’s perspective.  And, by doing so, we demonstrate flexibility and the willingness to step into the other person’s shoes.

After all, two people can be talking about the same thing and have independent points of view, especially when they are seeing different realities.

Listening with intent doesn’t imply that we eventually agree with the other party’s viewpoint, but it means that we give each other space to consider wider perspectives.

Approaching the other party by listening can create a pathway for resolving differences and conflicts.  Counter-arguing instead, can intensify conflicts simply because it broadens the gap between two different opinions and creates resistance.

In this article, I highlight some practical steps to enhance your reflective listening skills, so that in your daily life, including the workplace, you can create meaningful interpersonal relationships.

Reflective listening

There are two fundamental steps to consider when practicing reflective listening:


Listen to capture the speaker’s argument by paying attention to the words used, tone of voice, facial expression and body language.  In this context, resist the temptation to interrupt the speaker and allow him/her to finish his/her part of the conversation.  When you can, relax and sit back in your chair and allow your body to stay in a neutral position.


Once your counterpart pauses, reflect back to her the ideas she expressed as accurately as possible.

Here are two important techniques for reflecting back ideas (STEP 2):

Mirroring: repeat key parts of your counterpart’s message word by word, exactly as he or she said.

Paraphrasing: repeat what you heard with your own words. This is the most sophisticated version of reflective listening.

When you paraphrase or mirror, you basically try to capture what the speaker wants to transmit through his/her words without allowing your own judgement to interfere.  It is like giving your interpretation of the message received without letting your opinion or personal facts corrupting it.

When you reproduce the speaker’s message, it helps to pay attention to verbal and non-verbal cues, such as tone of voice or feet, legs and hands movements.  For instance, you can ask yourself if the tone of voice of the other person denotes optimism instead of pessimism, distance instead of warmth, anger instead of joy and much more.  This way, you try to figure out how the other person feels about the matter she is talking about.

What definitely doesn’t help when paraphrasing or mirroring is to offer advice.  This is not what reflective listening is about.

Both paraphrasing and mirroring show that you are interested in understand correctly and paying attention to what is really being said and meant by the other party.


Once you have paraphrased or mirrored back to the listener their own message, allow them to confirm that what you have repeated corresponds to what they intended to express.  By doing so, you are seeking confirmation that you understood them properly.

When this is not the case, the speaker will most likely counter-respond by correcting your own words and further explaining the meaning of his/her argument.

Here are two examples of paraphrasing, the most sophisticated part of reflective listening:

Example 1 – Speaker: my boss writes me countless emails per day to the point that I can’t concentrate on my tasks and complete my work.

Listener: so, I understand you are frustrated because you feel overwhelmed by the constant messaging and feel like this is affecting your performance.

Example 2 – Speaker: I went to a well renowned cardiologist in New York and he could not even give me a date for my next appointment let alone provide me with a copy of my medical report….

Listener: it sounds like you are disappointed with the way the cardiologist’s office managed your follow up visits and general communication with you…

How to practice

Reflective listening is a precious skill to have.  It does take some time though to perfect it and make it a habit.  When you want to master it, I suggest doing the following:

  • Practice with an accountability partner – it can be a colleague or a friend – and together listen to short dialogues taken from TV series.  Otherwise, read parts of a dialogue taken from your favorite book.  Paraphrase them step by step and ask your partner to give you feedback.
  • Less is more: in your daily conversation, keep it simple and short. This means, paraphrase one thought at a time with the aim to connect and establish rapport.
  • Pay attention to body language: remember, people speak with their voice and their body at the same time.  Therefore, when you listen, observe the speaker and try to capture their posture.  Is the speaker smiling and nodding when you paraphrase or is he/she hesitating by pausing?
  • Enjoy: the main point here is to create fruitful interpersonal relations, where both party can connect step by step.  See it as a process and an ongoing relationship rather than your only chance to get it right.

If you want to know more about reflecting listening or are keen to elevate your soft skills, you can contact Silvia directly: silvia@bcoached.org

Silvia Bottini is the founder of bCoached, an international coaching practice that provides customized one-on-one as well as team coaching programs for executives and their teams. As an Executive Coach, Silvia supports leaders who aspire to sharpen the soft skills by which Performance, Influence and professional Reputation are elevated. As a Team Coach, Silvia helps teams establish their objectives, roles, tasks and responsibilities at the beginning and mid point of their formation.

For an initial consultation, you can contact silvia here: https://calendly.com/silvia-executivecoach/30minutes