Mirroring Behavior

Saturday, April 01, 2017 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

Written by Connie Cleveland-Nolan

I recently listened to a podcast about mirroring behaviors. The presenter spoke about how we mirror behavior that others present to us. For example, if someone behaves rudely, we behave rudely in return. If someone is patient, that patience calms us and we remain patient in response. In difficult or stressful circumstances, mirroring the behavior of another may boost engagement within a relationship and foster unity and trust.

When is it unwise to mirror another's behavior?

The presenter went on to say that it is almost impossible not to mirror behavior directed at you. If an angry person points his finger at me and raises his voice, it's tempting to point my finger back and raise my voice.

I marvel at the skill of healthcare professionals. They deal with us when we are not at our best. As professional caregivers, they must be professional and avoid mirroring the frustration, anger, doubt, and fear that so many of their patients exhibit.

Effectively changing a dog's behavior often involves changing my own behavior.

As a dog trainer, these principles should be easy for me to learn. With a dog that is exuberant and rambunctious, I must remain calm and controlled. With a dog that is shy, I must act confident. Because the principle of mastering our behavior is so important, I have created a chart. The chart asks the question: “Who is Your Dog? What Kind of Trainer Do You Need to Be?”

What kind of trainer do you need to be?

If you were to watch me train two or three dogs in a morning, you would wonder if I were part chameleon. My behavior simply cannot mirror the unwanted behavior of my canine student. If a dog is wildly out of control and I raise my voice and become flustered, mirroring the dog’s out of control behavior with my own, the dog’s behavior becomes worse. Instead, I must be calm, and predictable to gain the dog’s attention to have an effective training session.

Likewise, if a dog is worried and nervous, I need to be confident, matter-of-fact, and positive as I work through the situation that is upsetting him. Some dogs act dull and disinterested. In response, I create energy and enthusiasm for the task at hand.

Do you need to bring energy or calm to your training sessions?

Think about the dog(s) you are training. Are they exhibiting behavior you need to mirror, or do you need to change your behavior in order for them to change theirs? Do you need to create energy and enthusiasm, exude confidence, or remain calm and controlled? Think about what you need to bring to your training sessions and make them effective.

It is possible to avoid mirroring attitudes we confront.

If I naturally do not mirror the unwanted behavior of my canine students, why is it that it is so difficult for me not to mirror the unwanted behavior of the people around me? Certainly, I have had enough practice!

Even more fascinating is that the closer I am to that person, i.e. a family member, the more quickly I mirror the bad behavior. It’s embarrassing to admit that I have more self-control with a stranger than I do with the people I claim to love the most.

Since I heard the podcast, I have been watching my friends, and have delighted in catching them as they avoid mirroring the rude behavior of a teenager, or the angry attitude of an aging parent. I have some good examples in my life and I can learn from them.

It may be difficult, but it is possible to avoid mirroring the attitudes we confront. Surely if I’m clever enough to avoid mirroring my dog’s behavior, I can do a better job with the people I meet. Who knows, maybe I can create positive energy and enthusiasm for them too!

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