When Ben and Bliss got married, it did not take long before problems began to stalk their relationship.
A key challenge was communication; it appeared that despite being in love, they were not getting through to each other. Luckily, Ken came across an article on communication, and among the several skills that were listed, one captured his imagination, since it seemed to address the communication challenge in their relationship. The skill is called mirroring, a conversation skill that is important, especially in a new relationship. Let’s learn more about it.
As a conversational skill, mirroring involves reflecting words and feelings back to the speaker to ensure that you get the correct message. It is a complementary skill to listening, so that what you hear is first confirmed before it is acted upon.
This is important for all couples, but it is particularly critical for new relationships where the couple has not learnt much about each other. There are many ways that mirroring can help a relationship, but two of them stand out.
First, in any communication, only the sender knows exactly what the intended message is, and consequently, the only one who can confirm it if there is doubt.
Second, mirroring builds understanding between couples by helping them to hold successful conversations on a regular basis.
It doesn’t matter what the topic of discussion is, even the most mundane conversation that ends up successful helps to improve the chemistry between the couple.
Worth noting is that mirroring is not a very easy skill to master. Here are some of the challenges of using this skill. One challenge is that mirroring might seem to communicate inattention on the part of the person using it, especially if done often. For example, Ken, in our example above, always felt the need to reflect his partner’s message, but in his view, she seemed to consider him a poor listener, always wondering why he kept repeating her words. In frustration, and in the hope of keeping the peace, he stopped using it for a while.
A second challenge is that mirroring can easily be taken as an interpretation or a response to a message, rather than a reflection of what was said. Look at this sample conversation:
Bliss: I am a bit tired today; could you please help in the kitchen?
Ben: You would like to rest while I cook and do the dishes, right?
Bliss: Don’t I have a right to rest too?
Rather than confirming her original message, Alice assumed that Ken was rejecting her request, and so she decided to defend her position.
The challenge here is from both ends—the speaker framing the reflected message to sound like a response, and the other hearing the wrong message. Mastering the skill therefore involves learning how to reflect effectively on one hand, but also to recognise it and respond appropriately on the other.
Another challenge is that if used too often, it would make normal conversation almost impossible. This was Ken’s problem, according to his wife.
He was too careful to get everything right to the extent that it became irritating. The real issue in this regard might be that Ken, like so many people, lacks conversational confidence, and is afraid of making mistakes.
In this case, one needs to develop better listening and responding skills, develop confidence in conversation and use mirroring appropriately.
Communication is the heartbeat of any relationship, and when it stops or fails, relationships run into serious trouble.
Mirroring is one of the many communication skills that I believe can improve our relationships if we take time and effort, individually and as partners, to develop the skill.