You are just like me.

You think like me. You act like me.

You respond in exactly the ways I would expect.

You share my attitudes and beliefs.

You know what I know (even if I didn’t tell you.)

What motivates me would motivate you.

What would reward me, rewards you.

What I want, you want


As a leader (as a human!), I often fall into this mistaken way of thinking, also known as the mirror-image fallacy.

The mirror image fallacy is the wrongly assumed belief that others share our thoughts, responses, and perspectives.


A few years ago, I fell into the mirror image fallacy when I assumed that everyone I worked with would prefer a phone call to an email. (I certainly preferred it.) And then I drove one co-worker crazy with my fondness for phone communication, offending her strong sense that an email would serve the purpose just fine, thank you.

When we believe that others think, believe, and act like we do, we assume to be able to predict their preferences and choices. We treat people the way we would like to be treated, in a well-intentioned fulfillment of the Golden Rule.

The fastest way out of the mirror fallacy is awareness. I remind myself: you are not me.

Perhaps it’s a boundary issue as well, one in which I see who I am bleeding into and blending with who you are. So I remember: this is where I end. This is where you begin.

Once I am aware that we are distinct, I can cultivate curiosity and ask questions as I build a true connection with the real you. What ideas and beliefs do we have in common? What differences exist between us? How would you most like to be treated? What do you prefer?

Once I understand you better, I am free to choose to relate to you in the ways that put your comfort and well-being ahead of my own, which serves both you and our relationship.

To combat the mirror image fallacy, I can ask: What do you prefer? What do you think? What works best for you? What does success look like for you? What do you want?

I can look at you as through a plate of clear glass and see you as you are, instead of viewing you as a reflection and expression of me.

photo credit  gata no espelho by Wagner Machado Carlos Lemes