Communication is an art form. The act of bridging the gap between two beings with different experiences, thoughts, and beliefs in order to express an idea or convey an emotion, to share an experience, or to solve a common problem requires a significant amount of effort and skill. And like most art forms, while some seem to have a natural ability, the truth is that everyone can learn the skills necessary to the task. If communication does not come naturally to you, we have compiled a few processes that you can implement into your personal relationships in order to make yourself a more successful communicator.

The three effective processes that support communication between people are: mirroring, validation, and empathy.

Mirroring is the process of accurately reflecting back the content of a message from one party to the other. The most common form of mirroring is paraphrasing. A paraphrase is a statement in your own words of what the message the speaker sent means to you.

Mirroring indicates to the speaker that you are willing to set aside your own thoughts and feelings for the moment in an attempt to understand them from their point of view. Any response made prior to mirroring is merely an interpretation of what has been said, and often contains a misunderstanding.

The intention in mirroring is to allow each person an opportunity to send his or her message and for it to be paraphrased until it is clear that the message has been understood and received accurately.

Validation is a communication to the speaker that the information being received and mirrored makes sense. It indicates that you can see the information from their point of view and can accept that it has validity—it is true for the speaker. Validation is a temporary suspension of your own point of view, which allows another’s experience to have its own reality.

To validate someone else’s message does not mean that you necessarily agree with his/her point of view or that it reflects your subjective experience. It merely recognizes the fact that in every situation, no objective view is truly possible. In any communication between two people there are always at least two points of view, and every report of an experience is an interpretation that serves as “truth” for each person.

The process of mirroring combined with validation increases trust and closeness in personal relationships.

Empathy is the process by which the listener reflects or imagines the feelings the speaker is experiencing regarding the situation being discussed. In this deep level of communication, you attempt to recognize, explore, and on some level experience the emotions the speaker is sending. Empathy allows both people to transcend, perhaps for a moment, their separateness and to experience a genuine “meeting.” Such an experience has potential for tremendous healing.

An example of using the 3 processes in effective dialogue might go something like this:

“So if I understand you correctly, you are saying that if I don’t look at you when you are talking to me, you think that I am disinterested in what you are saying. I can understand that, it makes sense to me. I can imagine that you would feel rejected and angry. That must be a terrible feeling.”

This material is adapted from Imago Therapy techniques developed by Harville Hendricks, available in his books Getting the Love You Want and Keeping the Love You Find.

By Kelly McDonnell-Arnold


Kelly McDonnell-Arnold, MA, MBA, RSW