In my experience, trying to practice reflective listening over SMS or other asynchronous messaging platform doesn't work.
As a sender, if I send a reflection and we weren't deeply embedded in active conversation on both sides, I find that the other person often disengages, maybe texts back a few hours later sounding frustrated.
As a receiver, I get frustrated when someone sends a reflection or reflective question since it comes across as very noticeable/clumsy and I often don't want to talk the thing through with them. Maybe I said all I meant to say (e.g. why I had to cancel plans for this week--I don't need their empathy over that and don't want it when it means having to text replies back to them over and over) or I was going somewhere else and their responses are like roadblocks that stop me from where I was going.
Is reflective listening still applicable to messaging, and I just need to be more skillful? Or are other communication strategies better?
I'm intrigued by the slant of this article which emphasizes being more explicit about a lot of things--saying how what the other person said made you feel, specifying the response you want, asking the other person about feelings/reactions to what you said. Should these skills replace reflections?
Update: examples -
1) Person A is talking/venting at length about a situation with family that's really causing stress. Giving advice, platitudes, etc. wouldn't be appropriate, but I want them to know I'm listening and there for them. I reply, "It sounds like this is really stressful for you". They don't reply.
2) Person B messages me asking how my day went. I reply to the request for info but get frustrated by the follow-up questions since I don't want to talk at all but they keep coming:
B 1:50pm: How are you?
Me 5:17pm: A wide range of emotions. Currently worrying about my friend who's falling into a deeper depression and convinced that he's tried everything and nothing can ever work to make his life better.
B 5:44pm: Could he use some company?
B 5:45pm: Would he welcome it?
Me 5:45pm: He lives in [far-away city], but he's grateful when I call him.
Me 5:46pm: I was thinking of maybe sending him something?
B 5:47pm: You could?
B 7:54pm: What were you thinking of sending?
Me 4 days later: Eventually I realized it is more helpful to just send him more text messages and phone calls :P
This person's questions aren't technically reflections but they are active listening, apparently for the sake of trying to be supportive, but it's a burden for me to answer them, and they seem clumsy enough to annoy me too--like someone trying to relate without actually revealing anything of themself or bringing any interesting ideas to the table.
Also, to the point of reflective listening only being useful in some situations--that makes sense, that's why I'm irritated at Person B for messaging me in this way, but I usually spend several hours a week in text-based conversations that meet this criterion: "Your friend is ranting to you about a complex situation and needs validation"
Common conversation topics over text or Facebook Messenger for me include:
- Dealing with gender dysphoria
- Body-image issues
- Loss of friends to suicide
- Interacting with abusive parents
- Relationship problems
- Harassment at work
- Someone's LGBT coming out process
- Mental health problems
- Sex-related shame
- Someone asking for counseling on an issue they're responsible for, e.g. a performer in the troupe they run who's been accused of sexual assault
- Poverty/financial problems
When I'm "being genuine" it works, but sometimes I don't have anything to say that's "genuine", but I still don't want to say nothing or resort to other communication strategies I know would be ineffective (like saying "I'm sure it'll turn out okay"). I don't have an example off the top of my head but even when someone keeps engaging when I'm trying to do reflective-listening-style messages, it subjectively introduces discord. In an actual conversation (phone or in-person) I can read tone of voice or face/body language to adjust in real-time to stay more on the same page, but that isn't there in text.