Animals do it! Humans do it!
DID YOU KNOW? Mirror neurons are designed to make you communicate quicker and smoother by syncing your brain with another person’s brain. Mirror neurons fire automatically when you move and when you see others moving. They activate when you hear speech inflections or words spoken.
Have you ever been amazed when a friend or significant other says exactly what you were thinking? Have you ever noticed among family members that their laugh sounds alike or voice tones are similar? Have you ever experienced the sensation when another person starts speaking fast your rate of speech quickens?
These experiences are a result of your mirror neurons at work. Mirror neurons are at the heart of a special language. They allow us to discern intentions and find meaning since they extend into areas of the frontal lobe. They are also found in the parietal lobe which registers sensations. Hence, we send out and match waves of different e:motions via facial expressions, physical movement or speech patterns.
When we emote, mirror neurons activate. We gain empathy and understanding. Mirror neurons form neuro-pathways to build rapport and form bonds. These pathways are like super-highways of communication. Sometimes traffic flows smoothly. Other times it comes to a stop. Such is the nature of brains automatically syncing to communicate. In the best-case scenarios, where communication flows, rapport deepens and connections happen. In the worse-case scenarios, communication halts, rapport breaks down and disconnection follows.
All too often we misinterpret a facial expression, movement or speech pattern based on our own experience rather than on that of the other person. We listen for what we want to hear or feel like we have not been heard. In this case, our mirror neurons are working against us. Arguments arise and disagreements occur. Let’s get our mirror neurons working for us. If you want to increase your ability to listen and to be heard, then practice ABC Tool #12: Syncing.
The Reflector Brain Labors to communicate with others.
ABC Tool #12: Syncing
A – Affiliate with others
1. Ask yourself, “What facial expression, movement or speech pattern am I mirroring?”
2. Ask yourself, “Am I interpreting the meaning or describing what I observe?”
3. Ask yourself, “Whose e:motion am I experiencing ... mine or yours?”
B – Build Rapport
Dancing – Be a Dance Partner! There is someone in the lead and someone following when we dance. Basically, we copy each other’s moves. One steps to the left, the other steps to the right. One steps forward, the other steps backward. Being a dance partner is one way to build rapport, using mirror neurons to communicate effectively.
Let’s say that someone is sitting across from you and that person leans to the left or his/her head tilts to the left. You do the same shifting your position to match the other person’s position. Hold that position and then shift your positon. If the other person follows, you are now in the lead. If not, shift back into the other person’s position, hold and shift your position again. Continue making subtle shifts until you are in the lead and the other person follows you. Other options include leaning forward or crossing your legs or arms.
Parroting – Be a Parrot! Parrots repeat exactly what they hear. They do not paraphrase or interpret what they hear. Basically, a parrot copies a word for a word. Likewise being a parrot is one way to build rapport by intentionally using mirror neurons when conversations escalate or conflicts arise. In this way, a person is heard and communication deepens. We all want to be heard and to be understood.
When another person says, “I am frustrated!” parrot the word back by responding with “I hear you say, 'You are frustrated.'” At this point you can say, “Tell me more!” or you can add your own words, “I need a break. Let’s take one.” You have a choice. You can follow the person into his/her vortex and sink into his/her e:motion through your mirror neurons or you can use them to center yourself and lead the conversation in a different direction. This parroting communication skill clarifies whose e:motion it is and allows you to understand the other person’s perspective while holding your own.
C – Comprehend the message
Describe…Describe…Describe: All too often, communication breaks down and misunderstandings occur when we interpret body language. Instead, describe what you see. When you describe factually facial gestures or body movements, the other person can confirm its accuracy. Rapport is built and communication is restored.
A person stands with arms crossed and I interpret the body language to mean s/he is closed off. But, what if the person is cold or needs a hug and is unable to verbalize her/his need directly? Instead of interpreting the message, simply describe it. I notice that your arms are crossed. Hold silence, stay curious and let the person tell you what it means.
A person raises an eyebrow and I speculate that he/she is judging me. But what if the person is curious or unable to make sense out of what you are saying. Perhaps s/he is thinking “really?” Instead of hallucinating what you think the raised eyebrow means, simply describe it. I notice that your left eyebrow moved upward. Hold silence, stay curious and let the person tell you what it means.
Reflect…Reflect…Reflect: Mirror neurons reflect speech patterns and grammatical structures. It is how we learn to talk. First we mimic sounds and second they become words. Words have power. Whether it is in the spoken language or sign language, words bear the intention and meaning of the speaker. Be sure you pause to reflect the other person’s perspective or worldview before representing your own. Stay curious about the person’s intention and meaning.
A person says with a deep sigh, “I am so tired.” Empathetically, I reflect the experience of being tired thanks to my mirror neurons working automatically. Sympathetically, my memory fires at the same time connecting experiences triggered by the word tired. Now I can understand what the person means … or can I? My meaning of being tired may or may not be what the other person means. What if my tired simply means physically I need oxygen. Perhaps I have had a hectic day and have forgotten to breath, take a break and oxygenate my brain. What if the other person means emotionally I am spent … I have given all that I can give … leave me alone! But, the message is all coded in the word tired. We cannot read another person’s mind, only our own. We can show compassion, be curious and let our mirror neurons point us consciously to the subtext of another person’s underlying or hidden message.
A standard greeting like “How are you doing?” evokes a standard response like “I am doing great or I am fine.” But, your mirror neurons reflect something different. You feel the person is not great or you sense that they are not fine. Perhaps the person’s intention is to spare you the details and does not want to be a burden to you. Perhaps you are relieved because you have places to go and things to do. And the conversation ends. Or, you can extend an invitation to continue the conversation by acknowledging your mirror-neuron information. What if you respond by saying, “I hear you are fine, but the tension across your shoulders and forehead tells me something different? I am here for you, if you want to talk now or at another time.” Reflecting moves a conversation from a surface level to a deeper level when it is appropriate.
Note – ABC Tool 12: Syncing or the art of cultivating your mirror neurons may feel awkward at first. As you explore affiliating with others, building rapport and comprehending the message, you are bringing conscious what is an automatic response of the brain and an unconscious process of the mind. As you befriend your mirror neurons, please be sure you show gratitude by thanking them for all the hard work they have done for you over your lifetime.
Experience the mirror of Your Reflector Brain!
May You Live Life to the Fullest!