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Some of the most effective techniques to gain trust and understanding, and to get the results you want when you are in a conversation with another person are mirroring, rephrasing, and summarizing.

If you are talking with someone in-person, you can subtly change your body posture to closely (but not perfectly) match that of the person you are talking to. This is physical mirroring. If they are sitting, you can sit. If they have their arms crossed, you can cross your arms. If they are leaning on one foot, you can mirror it with the other foot. The idea is to be a reflection or a mirror image of the person you are talking to. Don’t make it obvious by immediately positioning yourself to be like them; instead do it slowly and make it look natural. You can still move around a little with your body or hands but your resting position during the conversation should ideally mirror them. Conversely, if you are trying to make them feel uncomfortable, do things as far away from mirroring as possible. If they sit, you stand, if they have their arms crossed, put yours on hands your hips, etc. Another form of mirroring is to repeat back the emotion of the person who is talking to you. Saying things like “You sound upset”, “It sounds like that made you happy”, or “That bothers you”. With this form of mirroring you are holding up an emotional mirror to the person, reflecting back their emotions to them. This shouldn’t be over done or it will sound weird and make you seem fake. It’s typically done early in a conversation when the person is first telling you about something that affects them. On the flip side, if you want to subtly piss someone off, then purposefully ask about that emotion like “And that upset you?” but with a slight undertone of disapproval, judgement, with a slightly confused look on your face, and with an upward inflection on your last word.

Rephrasing is a really good way to show people that you are listening without being too obvious about the fact that you are actively trying to manipulate them. In active listening, both rephrasing and summarizing are techniques used to show understanding, empathy, and engagement with the speaker. However, they serve slightly different purposes and are used in different ways. With rephrasing, you rephrase the immediate emotions of what the person is saying and repeat it back to them. If they are talking about how they are having legal issues, and telling you about their problems with a lawsuit, you might say something like “so the company is suing you over something silly and now you have a whole legal mess on your hands.” You might also add “that would piss me off too” as a form of mirroring. The goal with rephrasing is to show that you are paying attention (make sure you are!), and to let the person know you are understanding what they are saying. The goal of mirroring after rephrasing is to let the person feel that you also feel that way; that you are on the same side as them. It’s important to only agree with the emotion and not necessarily with their actions. A classic example from my negotiating days would be the idea of ‘I understand why you are upset but I don’t agree with the illegal actions you took.’

Summarizing is very similar to rephrasing but focuses on condensing the main points of several things the person you are talking to has said.


  1. Rephrasing:
    • Purpose: To reflect the speaker’s message using different words to ensure understanding.
    • Example:
      • Speaker: “I’m really frustrated with my team’s lack of communication.”
      • Listener: “So, you’re feeling annoyed because the people on your team aren’t communicating well.”
  2. Summarizing:
    • Purpose: To condense the main points of the conversation, often used after a longer discourse or to wrap up a particular topic.
    • Example:
      • Speaker: “I’m really frustrated with my team’s lack of communication. We missed the deadline because no one was clear on their responsibilities, and now our client is unhappy.”
      • Listener: “It sounds like the communication breakdown within your team led to missing the deadline, and now you’re dealing with an unhappy client.”

In the rephrasing example, the listener is reflecting the speaker’s immediate feelings and thoughts using different words. In the summarizing example, the listener is condensing the main points of what the speaker has said, providing an overview of the situation.

Rephrasing tends to be more immediate and focused on individual statements, while summarizing often encompasses a broader range of information and may be used to transition to a new topic or conclude a conversation. Both techniques are valuable in active listening as they help to clarify, reflect, and build understanding between the speaker and listener. If you are instead trying to piss the other person off, the obvious solution is to say something like “I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening, could you say that again?” I don’t recommend this approach.

It’s important to note that some people naturally do these things and are not trying to manipulate anyone. It’s just something certain people naturally do without thinking. This is especially common with people who are trained to talk to people like counselors, negotiators, and teachers. This doesn’t mean they are being ‘fake’, it just means they are good.