To pay better attention, be a better mirror

© Can Stock Photo / 4774344sean
Much of the NLP (neurolinguistic programming) course I teach is about how we pay better attention to get better results. This is most important when your results include cooperation or influence. Whether you want to be a better parent or reach your next career goal, the way you pay attention will make the biggest difference to your success.

But what do we mean by paying attention? Our natural attention is fickle: it bounces quickly from what is in front of us to other situations (past and present) to what we want to make happen next. It's hard for us to stay present to what someone else is experiencing because our natural mode is to process what they are expressing in terms of what it might mean for us. This reinforces our beliefs and our current skills at the expense of growing to connect with new information and abilities. It also interferes with our ability to comfort, collaborate or lead.

We can't see attention, but we can see signs of it. In the picture above, you can see attention in the similarities in body posture. People who are standing or gesturing in similar ways or paying attention to each other. Because this is a still photo, we can't see who "started it" so we don't know who is paying attention and who is the subject of that attention.

In real life, we can use our words and bodies to deliberately echo or mirror what we want to keep our attention fixed on someone a little more consistently. This gives us time to learn how they are thinking and how they are different than we are. It gives them time to see or hear your reflection and maybe become aware of something they have been doing unconsciously. Mirroring is a win win.

To grow both your influence and your attention, start with what you can see and hear. Check on whether you are mirroring gestures or postures. Check on whether you are moving in sync with the other person. Check the sound of your voice (rhythm, tone, tempo) as it relates to the way the other person sounds. And, as you grow more competent, practice repeating back some of what you hear before you add to the conversation.

You don't have to worry about how you will process or interpret the information that is shared when you mirror. That will happen automatically: it's how your brain and mind work. You'll have lots of brain power left for actually listening when you start with simple mirroring. 

It's amazing what you can learn when you're paying attention.


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