I'll Be your Mirror

August 22, 2023

One way that we think about creating trust-building conversations here at ARTT is that a crucial component of trust is understanding–the belief by every party that they are understood by the other, that, even though they may disagree, someone on one side of the conversation can portray the other’s point of view in a way that the other would agree is accurate and fair.

A lot of research shows that a key to doing this well is to really listen to what the other person is saying, repeatedly, and then to reflect—or mirror—what you heard back to the speaker.

We call this response mode “Listen” in the ARTT Guide. Here is how ARTT describes 'Listen' as a response mode in the ARTT Response Catalog:

DEFINITION: To listen is to “hear something with thoughtful attention: give consideration” (Merriam Webster). Subsets of this include paraphrasing, where you repeat back a brief version of what the user just said, and silent preparation, where the focus is on you paying close, quiet attention to what is being said.

EXAMPLE: “What I think you’re saying is this. Is that right?”

GOALS: While listening may not seem like much of a response, it is a critical part of a trust-building exchange, especially in situations where one is thinking about the possibilities for longer term dialogue or engagement outside the immediate message being discussed (Bojer et al 2006). By listening silently, participants can understand more about whether to respond or how to respond.

For example, it may be that the person you want to engage with isn’t really willing or ready to discuss differences of opinion (Van Til 2011). It can also be that responding to a query only with factual answers misses cues that the message writer is sending about problems they are having.

This can be done badly, for sure. It can come across at best as insincere (“Stop trying to analyze me,” my 10-year-old says) or at worst clueless (“So what I think you’re saying, Mr. Leopard, is that you are expressing a firm desire and intention to eat my face. Am I getting that right?”).

But when done right, it can make the listener, and the larger social media audience witnessing your interaction, feel seen and understood.

The questions we're interested in exploring: What are good strategies for doing this on social media? Who does this well, and why? Let us know.