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Mirroring in Action: Diana's visit withJohn

This is a demonstration of mirroring.  For learning that lasts, follow along with the script below as you listen.  Click the triangle to start the audio.

VISIT WITH JOHN - Diana Walters
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Script of the audio demonstration of mirroring

Diana's visit withJohn


Greetings!  This is Diana Walters with a role-play—a simulation—of a conversation with John, an imaginary resident in a care facility.  John is not a real person, although his mood and the situation he is in are very common.

The character, John, is played by my husband, Rich.  [That’s me!  We believe that people who can’t speak well are still worth listening to.]  Yes, we absolutely do believe that.

This conversation illustrates the skill of mirroring.  The feature of mirroring is that the helper (in this case, me) constructs a reply out of what the other person has just said, possibly including what is unspoken but that is obvious in the context.  As you listen to this, concentrate on what John says.  Then, notice how my response to John includes both the content and feelings that were in his statement.  This is where you might think that the conversation won’t go anywhere.  But it will, because people need people; people want to connect with others.

Mirroring shows that you are listening.  It does not judge.  It shows acceptance.  It does not push or pry.  It is respectful.  It lets the other person choose the topic and set the pace.

This is a demonstration, so naturally it works out well.  It will seem a bit unnatural because, well, it is; demonstrations are like that.  Mirroring helps us keep a conversation focused on the other person, helps us remember, and helps us avoid saying things that are meaningless.  The goal of this activity is for you to add this skill to your other skills so you can be the best-equipped friend you can be.  Listen along as I talk with John.

First Visit

Visitor: Hello John. I’m Diana. I’m from Falling Water Church. Could I sit and visit with you a few minutes?

John: I guess so, but I don’t have anything to talk about. I don’t do anything all day.

V. So there’s nothing interesting going on to talk about.

J. I’m afraid that’s right. I used to be busy. I was an airplane mechanic, then after I retired, I did everything around the house so Eva could just paint.

V. You felt good about being productive and even when you retired, you helped Eva.

J: Yeah, I did everything for her. I shopped and cooked and cleaned while she painted beautiful pictures.

V: You were proud of what she did and proud you could help with everything at home so she could paint.

J: Yes, I was really proud of her.  I did the laundry—everything I had to do.  I was really proud of her.  I did the laundry; I had a lot to do back then, and I liked being busy but now … now there’s just nothing to do.  I don’t like it.

V: You don’t feel as useful.

J: No, I don’t feel like I’m worth very much now. Especially now Eva’s gone. She died, you know. She was a fine lady.

V: You miss her.

J: Well, we were married for 62 years. I did everything for her. I was always busy. She didn’t have to lift a finger.

V: You were a good husband to Eva, and now you don’t know what to do with all your time.

J: A lot of people around here they just sit around and gossip, or they play bingo or they make crafts—junk no one needs. That’s stupid!

V: Seems like a waste of time.

J: You’re darn right it is! What are they accomplishing? Certainly not doing anything useful, just talking about other people—wasting their life away. Course, I’m not doing anything useful either.

V: Sounds like you’d rather be doing something more meaningful than bingo.

J: Yeah.  I wish I could do some good for someone, but I don’t know what I would do though.

V: You’re uncertain what to do, but would like to be useful.

J: There must be something I can do. I’ve got lots of free time. I don’t walk so good any more, but I can talk—well, sort of—and I can listen and I can read and write.  So there must be something I could do.

V: You still have a lot going for you.

J: Well, more than some of these people here.  Some of them can’t hardly hear, some are in wheelchairs.  You see that guy over there? That’s Paul—he’s blind, so he just sits in the corner in his wheelchair. can’t do anything. Nobody pays any attention to him. What a poor way to live.

V: You feel bad for him.

J: Yeah, I feel bad. He’s probably lonely.  Hasn’t got anything to do. He’s worse off than I am!

V: Even though your life isn’t perfect, seems like Paul maybe even has it rougher.

J: At least I can see to read and I can walk around, even if I need this darn walker to help me. I’m told that Paul used to work at a newspaper. Now the poor guy can’t even read the paper.

V: Paul might miss reading the paper, yet you’re still able to read it.

J: I’m sure that I’d miss reading the newspaper if I wasn’t able to, and I guess he does too.  I wonder if I could read it to him.  Do you think that might work?

V: If you talk to him, you’d find out if he’d like that.

J: I think maybe I’ll do that. Who knows, maybe I can do something useful after all.

V: I’d like to come back soon to visit if that’s okay.  And I’d like to find out what happens with Paul.

J: Yeah!  I’d like to see you again.

Second Visit: A Month Later

V: Hello John.  It’s good to see you again.  Is this a bad time for a visit? Looks like you’re on your way somewhere.

J: I’ve got a few minutes.  Paul is expecting me to come read the morning paper to him.  I do it every day right after breakfast.

V: Sounds like you found something useful to do.

J: I think so, and it sure feels good to be helping someone.

V: It’s satisfying to have a purpose.

J: Yeah. In fact, the nurse asked me if I’d read to a lady down the other hall too. That lady, Sue, she can see but not good enough to read. So I do that in the afternoon. She wants me to read the Guidepost magazine to her and Bible verses. I’ve never been interested in that spiritual stuff, but I’m willing to read whatever she wants me to.

V: Even though you’re not interested in the subject, you are interested in being helpful.

J: Well, to tell the truth, reading to her is making me curious. She believes so strongly in Jesus, even with all her health problems, it makes me wonder am missing out on something because I don’t believe?

V: You’re seeing her faith and wondering if you should find out more about it.

J: Yeah, well she’s so peaceful even though her family is all gone and she has Parkinson’s and can’t see good.  But she says knowing Jesus is the most important thing in her life.  I don’t understand that.

V: Seems kinda strange to have that peacefulness when there’s a lot of things wrong in her life.

J:  Now I wonder, how’d she get to that point? I wonder if I could ever feel that kind of peace. 

V: You want to find out more about her faith and see if it could help you?

J: Well, maybe. Eva used to go to church, but when she wanted to talk about church and Jesus and stuff, I told her I didn’t want to hear it. When she got sick, she told me she was ready to go when the Lord was ready for her. I told her not to talk like that—she was going to live forever. Maybe I should’ve listened to her.

V: Eva had a strong faith, but you weren’t ready to hear about it.

J: No, I wasn’t ready. I’m still not sure that I believe all that stuff, but this lady down the hall,  Sue, she sure believes it, and my wife, Eva, she believed it.  Even my new friend, Paul, he believes it.  So maybe there’s something to it.

V: You’re not convinced, but are curious enough to talk about it and find out more.

J: Yeah, I guess you could say that.  Yeah.

Closing Comments

It worked like magic, didn’t it!  Demonstrations usually do.  But it will amaze you what happens when you make it easy for people to tell you who they are and what they need.  Mirroring can help you do that.  It shows that you care, accept them as they are, and proves that you listen.  It is Romans 12:15 put into action, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (NIV).  Use mirroring well and demonstrate it for yourself.

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