Listening is the most important component in communication. “Seek first to understand before being understood.” After 15 years of experience as an educator, psychotherapist, and everyday human being, I can share with you that this is easier said than done. Listening is an art and requires us to get out of our own way and our need to be right. That being said, there are tools we can learn that significantly increase our listening presence. Last month I laid out the seven feedback suggestions for creating an unwavering foundation for authentic communication. This month I am going to go into more detail about how to mirror and listen more effectively.
Most of us are not present for others when we think we are listening. Here are some telltale signs that we are pretending to be listening while another person is talking: forming a response or rebuttal in our head, thinking they are wrong with the facts, interrupting the conversation, spacing out and/or thinking about something else, etc., etc., etc. I have found that the most effective way we can truly listen is by following the structure of mirroring that was created by Dr. Harville Hendricks and his Imago system. Let me explain.
Everybody has their own experience and perceptions of the world. So the first requirement in listening, even before we begin a mirroring process, is to realize there is no right or wrong. There’s just perception and experience. Do you want to be right or be happy? Remember from the article last month you can’t be both. Nobody likes to be made wrong. People that make others wrong have very few true friends and usually have a very poor relationship history. My suggestion is to approach every listening opportunity as if you know absolutely nothing and the other person is just reporting in on their own unique world of interpretation.
When mirroring, one person (A) is speaking and the other person (B) is listening. B does not interrupt or say anything other than “If I understand you correctly you said ….” It doesn’t matter what B thinks about what A says. B is only reflecting back what A says. A’s job is to tell their story and own their experience without blaming B or anyone else. The use of I statements helps facilitate the process. When speaking about B, A must make sure to address the behavior of B and not person themselves. An example of good communication is, “Last Friday when we went to the concert I experienced that you picked me up 30 minutes after our agreed upon time and we missed the first three songs. I felt frustrated, unimportant, and angry when we arrived late.” It may also be useful for person B to stop person A at times before mirroring back the information, as it may become too long for person B to remember.
After the conversation of person A is complete, person B is then to validate person A. This is not agreeing. It might sound like this “I can understand how frustrating it was for you to miss the first three songs of the concert due to my being late.” That’s it. Keep you validation short and sweet. And make sure your response is real.
The final part of the mirroring process is for person B to empathize with person A. It may go something like this, “That must make you feel frustrated, angry, and unimportant to me.” This feeling piece is important. When B gets it, A feels heard and understood. In addition, B understands that it is their behavior that triggered A, and that it is not personal. When we can truly empathize with the other we are less likely to want to trigger them in the future. This creates more safety in relationships and allows us to go deeper and become more authentic with the other person. It’s a no brainer. Who would want to consciously trigger someone they love and care about? For that matter, why would we want to do that to anyone?
There are many different versions of this process, Couples Dialogue, Mirroring, and Reflective Listening to name a few. This process is much more difficult than it seems. Once feelings and emotions are present, mirroring becomes quite challenging unless it has been in practice over time. Practice makes perfect. This is a very structured process that may seem too canned at times. However, I can assure you that through repetition, the process can be adapted smoothly to your style and be just as effective and powerful! I also recommend you take a workshop or find a therapist, educator, or coach that can objectively guide you and another through the process. Once again, this model works in ALL relationships. I guarantee that if you incorporate giving and receiving feedback with mirroring, you will start to be known as the communicator guru. And that is because great communicators know that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason!