Resolving Parenting and Workplace Conflicts with Mirroring

Since becoming a mom I tend to spend a lot of time reading parenting books and studying parenting techniques of the so called experts. There was one technique I recently read about in a great book called Connected Parenting written by Jennifer Kolari. The technique of mirroring seems to be so effective that I have even been trying it in my relationships with friends and family as well as my interaction with patients in the office and in the OR.

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The concept originates from the theory that everyone wants to be heard and understood. Therefore to make people feel this way in your communication with them you should mirror what they are saying and how they feel. It lets people know that you are listening and that you do care. At the end of the day people of all ages (whether a child or a spouse) just want to be valued and listened to.

Applying Mirroring While Parenting
I have been trying it with my 19 month old son Nicholas. He has recently learnt the dreaded two letter word that starts with N, and likes to practice saying it on a regular basis. Just last week I asked Nicholas if he would like to have some lunch. He said of course “No” and indicated that he wanted to play with his “Digger.” Instead of telling him that it was lunch time and picking him up and putting him in the high chair right away. I got down on the floor and said,  “Goodness Nicholas, I can see why you would want to play with this really cool toy. It must be hard when you have to leave something you want to do. Let’s go have lunch together and we can play with the digger afterwards.” Miraculously he looked at me, smiled grabbed my hand and walked over to the high chair.

At this age, I am not even sure how much he is understanding and it still worked. I was blown away. Since then we were at a BBQ and another boy was playing with a truck he wanted and he kept saying “have, have, have” over and over again and was visibly upset. I sat down with him and said, “I know you want to have that truck to play with and it must be hard to not be able to have what you want. You can have something else and when the other boy is finished playing he might let you play with it then.” He calmed down and got another toy. Even at 19 months old he seemed to understand that I understood what he was feeling and that was all it took for him to calm down.

These kinds of exchanges seem to happen often with kids. They can’t seem to regulate their emotions as well as adults and they tend to exaggerate. To us most of what they get upset over seems ridiculous. Who cares who gets to push the elevator button first? But to them it is important. So when we dismiss it they do not feel understood. When we acknowledge it they calm down and from there we can work at changing the behavior.

Applying Mirroring at Work
I thought to myself this is a great concept. I am going to try it in other contexts. So I was at the office and a patient came in with severe arthritis and was very upset that she was kept waiting for 45 minutes. I said, “Thank you for your patience, it must be difficult to sit and wait when you are uncomfortable and your joints are aching. I can only imagine how hard it must be to be in pain so much of the time.” Her attitude changed instantly. She became pleasant and appreciative of what I could do to help her. It was almost instantaneous.

Now I am not advocating that we condone ridiculous behaviour in our children or others in our lives. But the impact that this mirroring process can have is astounding. Once somebody feels heard you can easily segue into a solution to the situation.

3 Step Process for Resolving Conflicts

  1. Mirror – show through words, tone of voice and body language that you understand what the other person is feeling
  2. Present the problem – let them know that although they are upset that the behavior is unacceptable and why
  3. Find a solution – let them know how you expect it to be handled in the future.

Showing empathy is such an important part of not only parenting but also being a caring and compassionate human being. Try mirroring to let other know you care how they feel.

How do you resolve conflicts in your family and workplace? Have you ever used the mirroring technique?

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