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Stop Conflict By Mirroring

By Mary J. Simon, Psy. D.

In any relationship that is more than just casual there will be conflict at times. The path we take when faced with conflict determines whether the outcome will be positive or negative. Margaret and Jordan Paul authors of “Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved by You?” suggest that we can choose the Path of Protection or the Path of Evolution (I like to call it the Path of Growth). According to the authors the Path of Protection leads to power struggles, distance, deadness and feeling unloved and unloving. The path of Growth, on the other hand, leads to fun, joy, closeness and personal and relationship growth.

Individuals choosing to follow the Path of Growth have to be able to move from the instinctive intent to protect to the intent to learn. Practicing the skill of mirroring is one method to assist you with this move. The method is simple, though not always easy. Here’s an example of how to mirror:

  1. Listen to what the other person is saying.
  2. Instead of attacking back Or putting up a wall respond by mirroring what was just said, i.e. “I really want to make sure I’m understanding what you’re saying. Let me see if I’ve got that. Are you saying …. ?”
  3. Restate what they just said. (Hint: No “funhouse mirrors”, sarcastic tones, adding in what you THINK they mean, editorial comments. Just a “flat mirror”.)
  4. Verify the accuracy of your restatement. “Did I get it? Did I get it all?”
  5. IF the other person says “No”, ask them to repeat what they said and return to step 1.
  6. IF the other person says “Yes” then ask “Is there more about that?”
  7. Once the other person says there is no more, then, if it feels appropriate, share your point of view.
  8. Practice mirroring when you’re not reacting to a situation until you get good at it. (Like practicing skiing on the “bunny slopes” before tackling the black diamonds.) Remember, the goal here is to LEARN about yourself and others, not to establish who’s right or who’s to blame in the conflict. The latter will only take you down the dead end Path of Protection.

If both individuals in a relationship use this skill and follow the Path of Growth, the resulting closeness and relationship growth can be phenomenal. However, if only you use it, YOU still are on a path that leads to growth and feeling better about yourself and others.