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Short-Circuiting Conflicts: The Mirroring or Reflecting Communication Technique

Disagreements and arguments can sometimes stem from misunderstandings. People have different definitions, emotional content, or perspectives regarding the meaning of words or phrases. Conflicts occur when people incorrectly assume that others share their mindset or understand the meaning of their conversation. Clear communication can only occur when everyone has the same frame of reference for the subject at hand. When you find a conversation becoming tense or confusing, the Mirroring or Reflecting Communication Technique can help to resolve or even prevent a possible misunderstanding. It’s a tool for active listening that can help you to short-circuit a potential conflict and prevent it from getting out of hand. Here’s how it works.

When it seems like the conversation is getting off track, stop and ask the other person, “What do you understand me to be saying?” If they can repeat or mirror back what you said in the way that you intended, then they understood you and may just have a different opinion. However, if they reflect back to you a message with a meaning that is different than what you intended, then you need to clarify what you said by using a paraphrase that more accurately reflects what you mean. If the other person still cannot accurately reflect your message, keep trying until they can.

The Mirroring or Reflecting Communication Technique can go both directions. If the other person’s message is unclear, mirror back to them what you think that they meant. “Here is what I understand you to be saying. Is that correct?” If they say yes, then you can continue the conversation. If they say no, reply, “Please clarify. Help me understand what you mean. I want to clearly understand what you are saying”. Then reflect back to them what you think their message until they agree that you understand what they mean. Do NOT say, “You’re not communicating clearly”, because that might seem like an attack and trigger an argument. Once the concept is clear, you can proceed with the topic at hand.

Here is an example. The wife usually loaded the dishwasher in a certain way. One time the husband loaded it differently than she did. She was puzzled, because she had never seen it done that way before. She asked, “Why did you load it like that?” He angrily replied, “You ALWAYS think I’m a screw-up!” She was merely asking for information, not being critical. However, he heard it as a personal attack on his skills. If he had used the Mirroring or Reflecting Communication Technique, he could have said, “I understand you to be saying that I did it wrong. Is that what you mean?” She could have replied, “No, I’ve just never seen it done that way before, and I was curious about your method.” This strategy could have completely prevented an angry argument with hurt feelings.

The Mirroring or Reflecting Communication Technique helps you to understand each other’s perspective. However, it does NOT necessarily mean that you agree with each other. It’s a tool to help you arrive at a starting point from which to work through disagreements in a mature, respectful manner. If you need more assistance in resolving conflicts, please call me for an appointment at 512.687.3436.

~Linda Eldredge, Ed.D., Psychologist

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