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05/30/2014

The Art of Mirroring

IStock_000025659109_web“You are way too blunt.”

“You’re not blunt! You just tell it like it is!”

“I appreciate your small talk. It makes me feel like you care.”

“Enough small talk already- just get to the point!”

Ever been completely confused by people’s contrasting opinions of your communication style? Ever been bewildered, trying to figure out the best way to communicate a message?

One principle can help. It’s called “mirroring.”

Mirroring describes a number of different processes in communication. One type of mirroring begins with observing another person’s communication style closely to see if he or she is more assertive or less assertive and more people-oriented or less people-oriented. Once we identify the other person’s style, we then attempt to “mirror” that style in a particular interaction.

Business communication author Sue Bishop in her book, Develop Your Assertiveness, explains that mirroring can help to create rapport and empathy between you and another person. Rapport (a harmonious relationship) and empathy (experiencing the feelings of another) are essential to making connections and creating an environment for understanding.

So, in the workplace, if you notice that your boss is less assertive and more people-oriented, you would mirror his or her style, allowing time to talk about personal matters first, and then using more tentative language in your request. “Hi Barbara! How’s it going?” and then, “I heard your daughter is graduating this weekend. That’s great!” and then, “So, we’re talking about maybe going to Florida this summer.   Do you think it would be okay for me to take off the first week in July?”

But, if you observe that your boss is highly assertive and not very people-oriented, the principle of mirroring suggests that you stick to the facts and keep your conversation brief and direct. “Hi Barbara. I need to take off the first week in July this summer. Would that work?”

If she’s really super assertive, you can just say, “Vacation. July. 1st week.”  Then salute her and walk out of her office.

No, I’m kidding. Don’t try that at home, I mean, at work.

On second thought, maybe you could try it at home. If you would like your super assertive husband to take out the trash, don’t say, “Hi honey sweetie it’s looking like we might get some rain later and is your indigestion feeling any better and if so I was wondering if you could possibly consider taking out the trash sometime in the next few hours?”

Instead, try, “Babe. Trash. Now.”

Okay, so in certain situations, mirror at your own risk. And let me know how it goes.