As image consultants, we’re always looking for ways to give our clients an edge in their personal and professional lives. It goes without saying that a custom wardrobe will help quite a bit in that regard, but we insist on going deeper than just clothing. We’ve discussed the ABC’s of image, and one concept that covers both behavior and communication is “mirroring.” What is mirroring, and how can you use it effectively?
We’ll discuss that concept today.
What Mirroring Is & Its Effects
Mirroring is a communication phenomenon wherein the practitioner simply “mirrors” the communication style of the person with whom he’s communicating. This applies to body language, tone of voice, cadence, and other subtle nuances of communication. Humans generally mirror one another naturally in social situations, and being cognizant of the practice can be a powerful tool in your toolbox of communication.
The goal is to help build rapport, comfort, and ultimately trust with your audience. When you mirror in a genuine way, it can help you build better relationships more quickly. This can, in turn, lead to more success in business and life in general.
Note that we emphasize the importance of genuineness here. This is related to our core value of authenticity, which is simply being your truest self. If you use mirroring in your personal or business dealings, it’s paramount that you are genuine (and subtle) about it. It’s one thing to speak informally and use colloquialisms in response to your audience doing so. It’s quite another to, say, feign an accent that clearly isn’t your own.
The former will build the rapport needed to deepen relationships. The latter will make you come off as disingenuous, off-putting, and, frankly, weird.
Common Mirroring Techniques
There are two keys to mirroring: authenticity and subtlety. Remember: the goal is to engender familiarity and rapport. If your audience senses that you’re mimicking them, you’ll throw a huge wrench into those plans.
Thankfully, humans mirror each other naturally, and neither party tends to recognize when it’s happening. Below are some common mirroring examples.
- Posture: When seated, does your audience lean towards you, or recline away from you? Take note of your audience’s body language, and act accordingly.
- Word choice: Does your prospect speak in “proper” English with good diction? Follow suit. On the other hand, if he’s a more laid-back personality who uses slang, colloquialisms, or even the occasional swear word, you too should relax your speech.
- Facial Expressions: Smiling when your client smiles and frowning when she frowns indicates that you and her are on the same page. Imagine telling a happy story – the first date with your spouse or something of similar emotional value – and the person you’re talking to doesn’t smile. It might not be a big deal, but it runs the risk of being off-putting.
The Value of Mirroring
There are some golden rules in business and life. One of them is that people like to do business with people like themselves. Whether we like it or not, humans are naturally tribal: we’re drawn to people who look like we do, sound like we do, act like we do, and share our experiences. Anecdotally, any of us can think back to high school lunch periods for evidence – absent the structure of classrooms, groups of kids would self-separate based on shared characteristics or interests. Barring the occasional case of autism, mirroring is in our genetic code.
It’s highly likely that you already practice mirroring in your everyday life. It’s also likely that neither you nor any audience you have notices when mirroring occurs. Still, it’s helpful to be cognizant of the practice and use it to your advantage when appropriate.