This is a relatively common phenomenon that we may not always be aware of. It consists in the fact that when talking to the other party, our gestures and posture, as well as the tempo, volume and tone of speech, gradually begin to converge. This manifestation is referred to as mirroring. It can also be used consciously and can then be very helpful in communication.
Gestures, expressions, postures, pitch or tone of the partner are imitated both in personal communication between partners or in the family, and in work and business situations. In a simple form, it imitates even primates. It’s a way for the other party to gain affection in communication.
This behavior, also known as the “chameleon effect,” evokes in others the belief that if we behave like them, then we agree with them, we hold similar views, attitudes, or interests. As a result, they perceive us more favorably, and usually trust us more. Not only is there a tendency to mirror, but also how it affects us.
Numerous studies have proved this, including those dealing with sales success. They have shown that sellers who use mirroring tend to be more successful at selling. It helps not only those who “trigger” mirroring unconsciously, mostly because they really care about their ability to meet the needs of their customers, but also those who use it with some sensitivity consciously and intentionally.
Research has confirmed that those who were asked to imitate non-verbal and verbal expressions of customers when selling were more successful than those who did not. At the same time, their success was reflected not only in the fact that they sold more but also in the fact that their customers were more satisfied with their purchases.
When and how mirroring occurs
Mirroring occurs not only between two individuals but also in a group, for example at a meeting. Among his typical manifestations, in addition to the tendency to imitate gestures, facial expressions, or other forms of body language, there is also a tendency to show similar emotions in certain situations. An example is a tendency, like others, to laugh or frown in certain situations.
We can also imitate the personal pace of the other party, for example, by acting or speaking faster or slower. The subject of our reflection may also be the verbal expressions of the other party, such as the choice of words. It occurs in situations where we take over the words or expressions he uses, even though they are expressions that we would not use in a given situation or that are not very common.
Unconscious mirroring also occurs in cases where we perceive others as someone with a higher position or authority. Often, for example, when dealing with superiors, but also when negotiating, especially when we feel that the other party is in a stronger position.
Unconscious mirroring sometimes leads to a tendency to show similar attitudes towards others, whether rather friendly or withdrawn. Its manifestation can be, for example, a tendency to seek direct eye contact with the other party, or to avoid it. However, it is good to be careful about this form of mirroring. If we care about successful communication, we should not imitate the other side in unfriendly speeches.
This will help, for example, at a job interview. If the other party is not very accommodating, we can improve our chances by avoiding such non-verbal expressions. The same can apply to a situation where we come to our superiors with a request for a salary increase.
How to proceed with mirroring
Conscious mirroring helps in many situations. It strengthens our ability to make contacts, gain favor and act in a trustworthy way, including the opposite sex. Its significance also lies in the fact that we can better understand others. By imitating the manifestations of others, we increase our empathy, that is, empathy for others.
However, the effectiveness of mirroring is mostly related to how much the other party is aware of it. If he is to act, then others should not be too aware of his influence. It is better if it acts only subconsciously.
Therefore, we should not use mirroring excessively and not until we make some personal contact with the other party and show our openness, for example by listening carefully. The best way to start is to nod your head or tilt your head slightly while listening. Both manifestations are an expression of interest and understanding of what the other party is saying.
Nodding our heads, as research has shown, works most strongly when we do it three times in a row. The other side thus gets the impression that we not only listen to it, but also attach more importance to the message. As a result, she tends to speak longer, and her affection usually increases with the length of her expression.
Our tendency to nod may begin to imitate ourselves, and thus agree with what we say. We can increase her tendency to agree with us and accede to our proposals by asking her a few simple questions, which she will most likely answer “yes”. An example is a question like, “It’s hot today, isn’t it?” If he answers a few simple questions in the affirmative, then the probability that he will answer the other questions in the affirmative will increase.
Another mirroring process may be to try to mimic the tone of her voice or the tempo and volume of her speech. A voice that sounds like ours tends to be more likable to us. If, on the other hand, we make an impression, we can proceed to imitate her attitudes and gestures, such as the way she sits. However, care must be taken to ensure that our actions do not give the impression that they are feigned.
What to avoid
Deliberately used mirroring can become one of the tools of manipulation, even a tool to increase one’s power over others almost invisibly. However, when mirroring is used excessively and does not sound honest, it can easily, like other forms of manipulation, become too obvious and rather harmful to us.
Unless we are exactly natural actors, we should not try too hard to imitate each other’s gestures, movements or expressions. Too much “thoroughness” doesn’t usually pay off. Avoiding imitation is good even when we are nervous. In this situation, we are usually not very convincing.
We should not imitate non-verbal expressions, the nature of which is negative. The most common are cross-arms, leaning during a sitting conversation, or receding during a standing conversation. Similar manifestations include the tendency to close one’s eyes and look sideways during a conversation. These speeches indicate that the conversation with us is unpleasant for our partner or they try to avoid him for some reason. By imitating them, we can enhance these feelings.
We should also watch whether the other side imitates us. At the same time, mutual mirroring occurs more often than we realize. The mirroring we notice in the counterpart will most often be unconscious. It will most likely be an expression that he feels good in our society and subconsciously tells us that he might like to spend more time with us. He can also show his interest in cooperating with us or improve his personal or work relationships with us.
However, it is also possible that, consciously or unconsciously, this indicates that we could do something for her or that she needs something from us, and therefore she tries to make a good impression on us. It is also possible that they are trying to increase confidence. There may be nothing wrong with this endeavor. However, our tendency to trust the other party should not be too much affected by this behavior.
We can also verify the manifestations of mirroring during the interview. The best way to do this is to emphasize our typical non-verbal expressions, such as gestures that we make with our hands during a conversation. And then we watch whether the other party starts imitating them sooner or later.