We all like people who are like us. So, it’s no surprise that mirroring a conversation partner’s behavior can make them like us more and be open to our ideas.
Indeed, we all want to persuade others, whether it’s to watch the movie we want, close a sale, or get that no-longer-special someone out of our lives.
Of course, you don’t want to be a phony, but there’s a big difference between phony and adaptable. Only the self-absorbed act the same with everyone. So, here are some ways we can flex to be more in sync with our conversation partners.
I've found that mirroring your conversation partner's speech patterns is the most helpful form of mirroring.
- Formality. Some people like a measure of formality: politeness and professional language. Other people prefer colloquialism, even the occasional scatology. When I’ve uttered an expletive and asked if that was offensive, most people say they appreciate it because it's a sign of being human, authentic.
- Small talk. Some people like a fair amount of small talk before getting down to business. Others are fine with just a sentence or two.
- Pace. I usually try to match my clients' rate of speech. By nature, I’m a fast talker but I recognize that's uncomfortable if not incomprehensible to some people. This seems a particularly helpful area for mirroring.
- Volume. I’m soft-spoken but, without straining, try to approach my client’s volume level.
- Fact vs. feeling. Some people like to focus on facts and statistics. Others prefer conversations rich in feeling words, for example, “I’m excited about the prospects” or “Are you sad about him losing his job?”
- Practical versus idealistic or spiritual. Some people like to focus on the doable. For example, “Here are three things that might work. Which if any do you like?" Others enjoy blue-skying: “In the cosmic scheme of things, it would be wonderful if people were less self-absorbed."
- Length of utterance. Some people are concise and crisp. Their average utterance is a half-minute or less and is on-point, with few if any tangents. Other people's speech is leisurely, expansive, with meandering a pleasure.
As a visual species, it's easy to feel more comfortable with someone whose presentation is similar to ours. Even within the same profession, some people like to “dress for success” while others dress down. When I sense it will matter, I wear something in sync with what my client will likely wear. (That's easy for me because I work at home and can change between clients.)
Today, more than I can remember in my lifetime, people are likely to be open to you if you share their values.
- Political views. People tend to bond or repel because of political kinship. While I won’t dissemble, if interacting with someone I sense has political views different from mine, I’ll keep my opinions to myself. If I feel the person is likely a kindred spirit, I’ll float a small trial balloon and see how it’s received.
- Religion. Although I’m an atheist, if I sense that a client is religious, I might, as appropriate, invoke religion in a comment or question. For example, I have sometimes asked, “If God were attending our session, what would he say?”
I’ve not been convinced that mirroring my clients physically — for example, crossing my legs when they cross theirs — is helpful enough to justify attention to it.
Selective mirroring doesn’t conflict with authenticity. Of course, retain your core beliefs, but superficial mirroring as described above can facilitate more productive and pleasant exchanges with conversation partners.
I read this aloud on YouTube.