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The Social Mirror as a Double-Edged Sword

Being a double-edged sword, the social mirror does not provide an image but nuanced reflections which we should handle with care. The social mirror informs and deforms, teaches and cautions, lies and denies!

You wake up feeling good, you dress in that shade of formal/casual that suits you, you arrive with no more than average hassle to the office, and there, you meet a colleague you regularly meet, with whom you exchange the usual pleasantries, never a comment about appearances … except this morning! His opening remark is ‘Are you all right?’, ‘You look tired’, ‘You seemed to be lost in thought’ or ‘Can I help you?’ Although you believe all is well on your side, you receive a reflection of your image you really did not expect. You then begin to wonder how people can expect to read between the lines while ignoring what actually is on these lines. In other words, you feel that the people around are looking very hard for some secondary meaning to your acts and appearance and so forget to focus on and what you really are or what you do intentionally.

That said, the social mirror is not always evil, it can also be constructive. Take for instance our individual personality traits. Often, you act in a given situation in a certain way, but then a colleague, a friend or someone who knows you immediately responds that you always react the same way. This startles you, and you reply that this is the first time you’ve done this, and then, to your surprise, a detailed history of your past reactions unfurls and proves that you do, in fact, ‘react that way’. After all, we find it much easier to identify personality traits of others that our own. Above all, do not be surprised when being caught out by reflections you see in the social mirror. It is quite normal to not pay attention to what this mirror reflects. This type of observation is constructive because it helps you better understand your personality.

The social mirror reflects our leadership skills only if our posture is transformative. If you continue to contemplate it with docility, you may eventually change yourself, but not transform yourself; you might satisfy those around you, but not thrive! What is certain is that if you let your social mirror control you, you can only be a follower and not a leader. In many circumstances, the social mirror effect creates ‘followers’ through the comfort of inertia that it can generate. It is indeed fascinating how individuals can indulge in irrational behaviour contrary to their values just because those around them do it. Many social experiments have proven this, such as those by Solomon Asch, and have confirmed how absurd the behaviour of individuals can be under the social influence of a group in contrast to the rationality they display when taken alone.

Build and challenge your social mirror and you will strengthen your personal and interpersonal leadership. This is certainly the fruit of the two types of victories Steven Covey clearly highlighted in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. There are private victories and public victories, the former systematically required for the latter. A private victory is the result of work on oneself to break away from dependence to independence through proactive behaviour, vision and prioritization. Independence is not the ultimate goal because we must make the best of our social relations to create the interdependent environment required for public victories. This is the result of our ability to change our habits towards a win-win mindset, greater synergy and better listening skills!

By Farid Yandouz

By Farid Yandouz


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