Mirroring (“Mirror On The Wall—”)
The trick of good listening is getting people to talk about themselves and their feelings. One of the best ways to help someone better understand their feelings is to be a mirror, to reflect back the feelings you think you hear and see.
(Okay. I didn’t come up with the mirror image idea. That was someone a lot more adept at all this listening skill talk than I am. In fact, I first heard about this when I took a parent effectiveness training program because my then two-year-old son was out of control. But that’s another story for another time.)
Here’s how mirroring works: a good friend of yours wanted the nomination for class president but didn’t get it. Looking defeated, he says: “I didn’t get the nomination. There were too many people more qualified than me.”
After giving yourself enough time to think about what your friend was feeling and what made him feel that way, you might say: “You’re feeling that the other kids are better than you because you weren’t nominated.”
You reflected, or mirrored, your friend’s hurt feelings (“You’re feeling the other kids are better than you”.) and you told him why you thought he was feeling hurt (“because you weren’t nominated.”). Feedback is what’s going on here. Not repetition. If you simply repeated what was said, you’d get your friend angry in a hurry. He’d think you were nothing more than an annoying recording app on a cell phone.
Fine, you think. This mirroring business sounds like it may work, but is there a pattern you can follow until you get the hang of it? Some people like using this format: You feel ________because _____________. But don’t think you’re locked into this pattern. You can change You feel to You’re feeling, You sound, You seem, or anything else that works. You can change because to about, with, at, or by. The important thing is that you catch the meaning behind the words and restate what you think you hear. Unless you have psychic powers, you can’t read your friend’s mind. So don’t tell him what’s going on. Mirror what you think he has said. If you’re checking out a hunch—not playing a know-it-all—you’ll have a much better chance of getting your friend to talk.
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