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Facilitative Listening Skill: Mirroring

Updated: May 30


Have you ever approached someone with an issue and they went straight to problem-solving when all you really wanted was to feel heard or listened to?

Mirroring (and paraphrasing) are effective listening skills for building trust and supporting both groups and individuals to feel valued and like their contributions matter.

As a team-leader, mirroring is an invaluable listening skill that works well to:

  • Build trust

  • Demonstrate neutrality

  • Speed up the tempo of slow-moving discussions

Mirroring is the main skill you will use while facilitating a brainstorming session.

Short Story: Trouble on the playground Imagine, a child runs up to their parents and exclaims, “Farzana pushed me!”

Parent responds, “Farzana pushed you?”

Child says, “yeah, and it wasn’t nice!”

Parent says, “oh, and it wasn’t nice?”

Child says, “yeah,” and then runs on to play.

Sometimes we all need help or support solving a problem. More times than not, as listeners, we move quickly toward solutions rather than giving the support that’s really needed. That is, good listening.

It’s common for team leaders, managers and those in positions of authority, power, or privilege to feel a burden of responsibility to be the “fixer.” Commonly, the tendency of “fix” decreases a team’s capacity to solve its own problems and increase the burden (and stress) of responsibility for the “fixer.”

Mirroring is an invaluable listening skill to increase trust and build capacity both 1:1 and in group contexts.

How Mirroring Works:

  • Listen to what the speaker says.

  • Using their exact words, repeat back what the speaker said.

  • If they say multiple sentences, repeat back key words or phrases. Do your best to use their exact words.

  • One exception: When the speaker says “I,” mirror back using the pronoun “you.”

  • Be yourself and mirror back in a tone that’s warm and inviting. It might feel awkward at first, but over time you’ll learn to mirror back in a way that feels natural to you.

Like practicing any new skill, this might feel awkward at first for both you and the speaker. Keep trying. Especially in contexts when you’re emotionally invested, mirroring can be a safe go-to or fall-back listening skill.

Lastly, mirroring doesn’t mean agreeing. It’s simply a skill that helps people feel valued and like their contribution matters.

Optional reflection questions:

  • What do you like about helping people solve problems? Does it make you feel valued or important?

  • How do you reinforce the tendency of people to come to you with their problems? What could you do differently? What makes you afraid to change your behavior?

  • Around whom do you feel safe, secure, and “seen?” What is it about the way they listen that’s so powerful? Do they mirror? What else do they do?

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