Mirroring. It’s the way humans either inadvertently or intentionally copy the communication patterns of the people they are communicating with. You can mirror nonverbal or verbal communication, anything from copying the way someone holds his arms to mimicking someone’s speech pitch or patterns. My friend and I used to make a game of it. Whenever we found ourselves standing in a circle conversing with people, we would start to subtly sway. Before long, others would start swaying in sync with us. It was a testament to the power of mirroring.
How it Works
If my informal research isn’t proof enough, consider these studies that show how mirroring works. Researchers studied women who mirrored the men they were talking to during several rounds of speed dating. “Data revealed that the men evaluated the dating interaction more positively when the woman mimicked them.” In another study, sales clerks used mirroring techniques when interacting with customers. The customers’ evaluations of their experiences revealed the positive effects of mirroring. “Results showed that mimicry was associated with a higher sales rate, greater compliance to the sales clerk’s suggestion during the selling process, and more positive evaluations of both the sales clerks and the store.”
So mirroring definitely produces results, but why? Licensed clinical psychologist Jason N. Camu says, “When we feel safe we tend to share more of ourselves, we become less defensive . . . when it appears that another person understands our perspective without a judgment attached we may believe that he or she is less focused on harming us. Consequently, mirroring may reduce defensiveness.” Put simply, we feel more comfortable around people who try to understand us and connect with us. When people mirror us, we trust them. So mirroring can be a simple technique used to establish feelings of warmth and identification between communicators.
How to Use It
Now that you know the potential mirroring has to establish connection between communicators, how do you start using it? Here are a few tips to get you started.
- Check your intentions. Don’t mirror with the intent to manipulate or make fun of someone. Choose to use mirroring as a way of connecting or building rapport. Author and speaker Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman says mirroring should be used as “a silent signal that you are positively relating to the other person.”
- Use it subtly and sparingly. You don’t want mirroring to turn into a game of copycat, so pick just one thing to mirror. You might imitate someone’s posture and take a position that closely resembles his. Or if the speaker raises her pitch of voice, you might try raising your pitch as well. Just be careful and understated in how you use it. If you overdo it, it might make your interaction awkward.
- Watch for signs that it is working. Pay attention to how the other person’s body language or facial expression changes. You might notice that person displays more warmth or openness as a result of your mirroring. You might even find that the other person starts mirroring you. At this point, you know you have established rapport.
The next time you need to establish connection with someone, try using this powerful and simple tool. Mirroring might just be the “foot in the door” you need to allow you to more openly communicate with a co-worker, spouse, client, or friend.
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