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March 2014: “Cultivate Deep Listening Through ‘Mirroring’”

The practice of mirroring is a commonplace technique used in cultivating active listening in relationships. There are several ways to mirror. You can mirror non-verbally by reflecting back subtle facial expressions, or the body posture of your partner. This can be effective at times when emotions run high and compassion is needed. Another form of mirroring can be used in verbal communication while listening. You do this by verbally stating to your partner what you heard him/her say. There are times when it’s effective to mirror back word-for-word what you hear, for example when repeating back instructions given to you. However, in most cases, it’s better and more natural to use mirroring to paraphrase what has been said. This can be very powerful for our partners to know that they are seen and heard and often this process allows for clarity and insights that otherwise might not occur. After mirroring, it’s important to check in for agreement to provide space for clarification, e.g., “Did I understand you?” or “Is that accurate?” An extra gift of listening can be the follow-up question: “What else?”

In the month ahead look for opportunities to practice mirroring as you listen to your partners. This practice might feel a little awkward at first but in time, you’ll find your own language and way to mirror that’s natural. It’s important that you be sincere with using this technique, otherwise your partner can feel manipulated. Where time allows, ask the follow-up questions: “Did I understand you?” and “What else?” Notice how the gift of deep listening is received by your partner and how it deepens your relationship as a result.

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