Mirroring another person’s body language builds good rapport
Recent research has confirmed that mirroring a person’s body language increases rapport dramatically. This finding confirms the results of previous research, especially in the field of social psychology: copying the words and gestures of the person you are meeting will increase goodwill between you.
Mirroring is behavior that copies someone else during communication with them – in displaying similar postures, gestures, or tone of voice. It may include imitating gestures, movements, body language, muscle tensions, expressions, tones, eye movements, breathing, pace of delivery, accent, attitude, choice of words, metaphors, or other features apparent in an interpersonal exchange.
Mirroring happens very naturally when people are speaking. A listener will typically smile or frown or nod their head along with the speaker. If one person uses sports imagery the other person is likely to do the same. People who have lost most of an accent over time when they have moved away from their home town, will quite often find they are speaking more heavily in that accent when they chat with someone from home.
Copying the behavior of others is a technique learnt from an earliest age. Infants and young children learn words and gestures by copying adults, who respond delightedly to that kind of behavior. I have observed this myself, and most parents would testify to this.
Mirroring is a little like a communication dance. While having normal conversation, two people match each other as if in a dance, naturally adjusting their body language and words.
You can learn mirroring behavior
The outcome is that if you display much the same expression or movements the person does, they will generally be much more friendly.
The mirroring technique is learnt by good salespersons. Many find it becomes automatic after a while; they are not even conscious of doing it.
Observe the behavior of people in meetings with you. If they naturally mirror the sort of body language that you display, then you know that they are generally comfortable with you.
However, if someone mirrors you too quickly and too well, be on your guard. They may be doing it because they have read about doing this, such as in Neuro Linguistic Programming or similar, or are trying to build a relationship insincerely. If someone is genuinely using natural mirroring then you probably won’t realize it is happening.
Try doing it yourself with people you engage with. But leave a reasonable time delay so that your response isn’t too obvious. Wait up to 10 seconds before imitating their changes in body language, posture etc.
Why does mirroring work?
Neuroscientists have found that some of the brain regions that are activated when a person feels pain also respond when that person imagines someone else feeling the same pain. They believe a similar process occurs when someone is pleased at the good fortune of a friend or enjoys their company.
Journalist Benedict Carey, writing in The New York Times in 2008, reported on experiments demonstrating the success of mirroring. In one experiment, participants were asked to give their opinion about a series of advertisements shown to them. A researcher copied half the participants as they spoke, mirroring their posture and the position of their arms and legs. Shortly after, the researcher ‘accidentally’ dropped several pens on the floor. The participants who had been mimicked were 2-3 times more likely to pick up the pens than those who weren’t mimicked.
The same article reported on behavior exhibited in an experiment conducted at Duke University. Students were asked to try a new sports drink and then answer some questions. The interviewer in each case mirrored the posture and movements of half the participants, with a 1-2 second delay.
None of the participants who had been copied realized that mirroring had taken place. At the end of the interview they were significantly more likely than the others to try the drink, to say they would buy it and to predict the drink’s success in the marketplace.
Imitation is more than the sincerest form of flattery
Mirroring shows that imitation is more than the sincerest form of flattery – it is a powerful way to establish and strengthen rapport. But it needs to done sincerely. If you fake warm feelings toward someone by mirroring, they are likely to realize the dissonance at some point.
In future, try to remember mirroring with the people you deal with – your boss, your spouse or partner, your friends and your work colleagues. Try to gauge whether extra rapport develops between you. Do it often enough and it will become automatic – and people will like you better, creating stronger interpersonal relationships.
Source: Benedict Carey. “You remind me of me.” The New York Times, 12 February 2008