Story: Using Mirrors to Build Deep Empathy

Mirrors are another tool to build trust quickly. They take advantage of the fact that people like (and trust) people like them.

This is the story of how a mirror triggered a client to tell a personal story (shared by permission). We’re doing audio today because we’re talking about vocal tones.

If you prefer to read, the transcript is below. 


A client and myself were playing a game where we take turns using trust building tactics. It’s my turn and I use a label:

It seems like you’re excited about your new daughter.

He responded by telling me how he was excited about his new daughter, and ended by saying they wanted to have another kid before too long, if life didn’t get in the way. 

I repeated that last phrase back to him with an upward inflection. 

If life doesn’t get in the way?

There was a moment of silence, then he told me how money stress had interfered with him and his wife getting pregnant in the past, which normally wasn’t an issue for them. 

Then there was another moment of silence where it seemed like we were both surprised that he had entrusted that story to me.

My client broke the silence with, “that got personal fast”.

And my response was, “Labels build trust quickly. That’s not something you would have just told me.”

And He replied, “And you wouldn’t have asked”

“No, I wouldn’t have”

These techniques are designed to build trust with the people you’re talking to. It can go deep, but it rarely gets that personal. 

It’s about demonstrating empathy in small ways that get the other person to confide small things in you and trust you enough to partner with you to create a good outcome.

It’s usually not a big moment of them confiding in you. It’s them revealing a little bit more of who they are, because, as my client puts it, you made them feel deeply seen.

The technique I’m using in this story is a mirror. A mirror is simply repeating back the last, or most important, few words someone says back to them and ending on a higher pitch so that it sounds like a question.

If life doesn’t get in the way?

If you can’t get the pitch quite right, tilt your head a little to the side like you’re curious about what they just said, even if they can’t see you because your body language affects your tone.

A mirror triggers the “I like people who are like me” part of their brain and demonstrates that you’re listening. You’re not blindly mirroring a random phrase back to them. You picked out something important that you’re curious about and mirrored it back to them.

It takes practice to do mirrors well. Don’t try it for the first time in a high stakes business deal. Practice in low stakes environments where it doesn’t matter if you fumble over your words or don’t get it quite right. 

Practice on your kids, your spouse, or your friends.


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