“MIRRORING” – and Its Application in the Law

By Family Law Mediator and Attorney Ronald L. Sims

Psychologists have a time-honored vehicle to enhance communication. It’s called “mirroring.”

The procedure is simple in theory, but may be slightly difficult in application.

The first speaker makes a statement, and the second speaker “mirrors” that statement by repeating it verbatim. Sounds easy enough.

Let’s try it.

                        First speaker: “I’m uncomfortable with you here.”

                        Second speaker: “You don’t want me here.”


As often happens, the second speaker doesn’t repeat, but instead re-interprets what the first speaker said. That is not mirroring. Let’s try it again.

                        First speaker: “I’m uncomfortable with you here”.

                        Second speaker: “you said, I’m uncomfortable with you here”


The first speaker relaxes- he or she has been heard and understood, and that is important. All too often we hear what is said to us, and we quickly re-interpret what is said and end up with a conclusion that is slightly off, if not flat out wrong.

There have been many occasions when lawyers have agreed to something over the phone, only to end up in a later fight about what was actually said. That result is often avoided by exchanging confirmation messages, so that both parties know and have a memorial of exactly what was intended. That is a form of mirroring and, as many can tell you, it has often saved the day from protracted litigation over an issue that both parties thought was resolved.

How many times in marriage, or post-marriage, do we hear, “You said_______”, “No, I didn’t.” Such a situation often is followed by a heated discussion that usually results in a deadlock (or sometimes a hammerlock).

With the advent of email and texting, the concept of mirroring can take place in a matter of seconds. If, however, you think the matter may have some significance later on, and you are in a position to do so, write it down, date it, and have the other party initial it. If the circumstances won’t allow for that, at least you can write some confirmation note that you can share with the other person in a timely manner to at least memorialize your understanding of the matter. Then, if they don’t correct it, you have evidence of a mutual understanding.

This may sound like I’m suggesting something awfully technical. I’m not! Misunderstandings occur all the time, and normally are unintentional. Eliminating those misunderstandings by mirroring your correspondent is easy, painless, and many times, very important. Attorneys often refer to a “he said/she said” type of case. Those instances can be avoided at home, as well as in the courtroom which will lead to clear communication and fewer headaches for everyone involved!