by Dr. Michael Mongno
The key to effective communication is for both parties to feel heard and understood for whatever they might be expressing and feeling. To accomplish this there is a three-step process that if done correctly, will ensure the intended result—feeling more connected around difficult issues.
The first part is called mirroring and is simply to reflect back what the speaker is saying in as close to their own words as possible. This alone accomplishes much: it assures the speaker of being heard exactly for what they are saying, it eliminates any interpretation by the listener, and it curtails most any emotional reactivity, since mirrors do not react they only reflect. The simple act of mirroring before reflexively responding slows down the process so staying connected is more likely to occur throughout the dialogue.
Equally important is the act of validating what the speaker is saying no matter what one’s personal opinion or perspective might be. It is an attempt to make some logical sense of what’s being said by entering into the speaker’s world as non-judgmentally as possible. This says to the speaker they are being taken seriously for what they are saying and creates the experience of feeling “gotten”, something that is so important for all of us.
The third step in true communication may actually be the most important, as it has the potential to really create change. It’s the act of empathizing, which is to try to feel into and convey to the speaker that you can truly imagine what they must be going through or experiencing. This, “I can imagine that you must be feeling (whatever emotions)…” is in itself connecting and goes a long way to ease emotional hurt or pain and can be a balm to heal old wounds that often keep getting triggered.
This style of communication is powerful because it doesn’t allow for emotionally reflexive responses, interrupting, misinterpreting, drawn out nonproductive looping cycles or never ending explosive fights and dramas to occur. It also keeps a discussion on track by responding only to what is being said specifically in the ‘here and now’ without bringing in the past or getting side tracked by non relevant issues.
One might practice this with a partner or friend around some small issue or even just in sharing what’s going on in one’s life. After all, who wouldn’t want to really feel heard, validated and empathized with?