Many people, including me, teach how to ask good questions for changing someone’s mind. The video explains how this works. There is another powerful technique you can use that can be just as effective – reflection. When you hold up a mirror so someone can view their own behavior from a different perspective and hear their story objectively, they might change their mind on the spot.


We all believe in the stories we tell even though they are built personal values, beliefs, assumptions, biases and fears. All of your stories paint the landscape you believe to be reality. Jonathon Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal, says, “Story is so omnipresent that we are hardly aware of how it shapes our lives.” You navigate your life everyday based on the stories you recall.

This means that you and I both have our own map of the world we live by. I can’t make you believe my map is more real than yours. Nor can you make me or anyone else believe your map is more correct than mine.


We behave based on our stories. Because of our protective instincts, we rarely evaluate and change our stories on our own. However, when someone else summarizes, paraphrases, and repeats back to us the words we say and the pictures we draw, we might be able to see the gaps in our logic.

As outlined in my new book, The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs, if you want to help someone “upgrade” their views and behavior, the first step requires you hear the person’s story about a situation. You have to fully digest his or her perspective. Listen for:

  • What the person feels is most important.
  • What is causing the person’s frustration, guilt, fear, or embarrassment?
  • What assumptions and beliefs have skewed or limited the person’s perception?
  • What does the person honestly want to happen regardless of probability or correctness.

Then when you share whbrain_webat you heard and sensed, you both see how these ingredients impact the story.


Mirroring gives the brain a chance to question itself. When you hold up the mirror to reflect someone’s story, you give him or her the opportunity to see more broadly.

An Example

The vice president of a company was preparing her team for a merger. One of her managers was not meeting deadlines for reports important to the transition process. Peers reported the manager was also very negative in meetings. My client detailed everything she had done so far to help her manager figure out why she wasn’t doing the reports, why she was abrasive with her peers, and what she needed to do to get on board with the transition process.

I said, “It sounds like you have done all you can to save her.”

She paused, sighed, and said, “Yes, I should let her go.”

Should is an interesting word to use for something you haven’t done.”

“I know I am balking. Honestly, the new owners want to see if I can make tough decisions. And they want me to bring over the right team.”

“So you believe she is not a part of the right team.”

“Shouldn’t I be able to turn this around? Aren’t I a bad leader for losing one of my people in the process?”

“But you implied you would be seen as a good leader if you let her go. What is the story you are telling yourself that is keeping you from letting her go?

“That I am the super leader who can save anyone.”

“So you are saying super leader and tough leader are in conflict. Like Superman and Batman. Or Superwoman. I guess you need to choose which cape you want to wear!”

She laughed and shifted into redefining herself as a leader. She acted on her tough decision that week.


  1. Resist judging their story based on your own story. You have to be open to the other person’s interpretation no matter how off the mark you think he or she is. The person needs to feel you heard before considering anything else.
  2. Be sure to affirm the person’s efforts and intentions as you seek to discover his or her perspective. When you sincerely tell someone, “I know you are trying to be the best leader you can be” or “I can tell you are committed to getting a good result on this project” you encourage disclosure.
  3. When mirroring, make sure your tone is encouraging and inquisitive, not threatening. Thoughtfully giving the person the chance to see and hear himself from the outside in. Your sentences will start with words such as “So I heard you say you think the reasons this is happening are . . .” or “You got very angry (excited, quiet, defensive, etc.) when you said . . .” Do not add your interpretations about what was said or expressed. Keep your opinions, judgments, and analysis out of the mirror.

Remember, you are relaxed, present, and curious about their story, not waiting to insert your viewpoints or solutions.3D-Discomfort Zone medium 2

For more cases and techniques for holding life-changing conversations, check out The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs.

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