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Mirror Mirror on the Wall...Help Me Communicate with Them All
By Eileen O. Brownell   Printer Friendly Version

"The more you appear like me, the more I like you."
-- copy in a fashion advertisement

You have just arrived at the local monthly business mixer. With name-tag secured on the right side of your suit jacket, you stride into the room and scan it for new faces. You walk toward the food table in a roundabout way hoping to see a newcomer. You spot the first person you want to meet. He's the CEO of a new company in town. Potentially, the company could be a really big client. Hand extended, you introduce yourself.

Scenario Number 1: You cannot seem to warm up to the individual. He seems nice enough, but aloof and distant. The two of you just don't seem to click. Try as you will, you are stumbling to create a conversation. With every question, a response is slow to come. He is always brief and curt. Finally, in desperation you excuse yourself and give up. Frustrated, you realize the missing element was rapport. You were unable to develop a strong kinship with the individual almost immediately.

Scenario Number 2: Moving back toward the food table, you notice another newcomer in town. You saw her picture in the paper as the inventor of a product that just might be able to use your services for sales purposes. Once again, you introduce yourself. You feel completely and totally at ease almost instantly. "This is fantastic," you think as your conversation moves easily from one topic to the next with little effort. She even seems to think like you. It's amazing, you've gone from one extreme to the other. You feel comfortable as the rapport builds between you.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if all your contacts with clients and potential customers went as well as the second scenario? Well they can, with a simple technique known as mirroring.

People feel more comfortable around us when they believe we share a kinship and common values. The judgement or assumption that we do, is usually made quickly within a matter of two to thirty seconds and based on what we see. When we mirror someone else, they tend to feel more comfortable around us. Great communicators are able to develop rapport with groups or individuals almost immediately with the use of mirroring techniques.

A simple definition of mirroring is behaving or conducting our selves in a manner that offers a reflection back to the observer of them selves. It can include anything from similar dress or appearance to the speed of our body movements and the pitch and rate of our voice. We begin to mirror others almost from the moment we are born. We learn to do the same movements as our parents and soon discover there are more ways to please our teachers than just standing in line quietly. We do not consciously think of our actions, or set out to mirror someone. As children, mirroring happens naturally. A few years ago I returned to live in the community where I was born and raised. For the first time since being a young adult, I was around my parents on a weekly basis. I was amazed to realize how my movements and gestures were exactly like my parents. For most of my life, I had been doing those movements and mannerisms and did not even realize it until I began to see my reflection in my parents.

Mirroring is more than just doing the same gestures or mimicking the other person. The more differences we perceive in each other, the more difficult it is to create a rapport. Mirroring will help you overcome those differences. Let's take a look at some of the ways you can mirror others to gain instant rapport.

Similar clothing. The important word with clothing is similar. You want your clothing to be like, not exactly the same as, the other person's clothes. For example, if you are attending a local service club picnic, you would certainly be out of place in a three piece suit or nylons and heels. Appropriate clothing to wear to create a bond would be neat and casual attire. Check ahead and establish what the majority of the people will be wearing and then adjust your attire accordingly. This is particularly important if you are making a presentation. You do not want to be over- or under-dressed.

Similar facial expressions. The face has 80 muscles it can use to express our feelings. A blank stare is not very inviting. A simple smile generates warmth and is inviting. Someone can show us by their facial expression that they are taking the conversation seriously and want more information or that they feel angry. Your eyes can reflect the other person's emotions and validate their feelings without even saying a word.

Head position. A rigid head and stiff neck are not very inviting and indicate "I'm really not very flexible." If your head moves or tilts as the other individual's does, you are staying in synchronicity with the person. A simple slant of the head expresses you are willing to hear what they have to say.

Body position. When seated across from someone, take note of their total body position. Remember, mirroring is a reflection of the other individual, not an imitation. You want to be natural, not forced. Begin with a gradual shift of your body. If his legs are crossed, you may want to cross yours, but in a different manner. If his hands are folded in his lap, you may want to put both of your hands on your lap. Our posture is frequently connected to the kinesthetic representation of our current thoughts. If someone is feeling rejected for example, they may slouch their shoulders. Arms folded across the chest may mean defensiveness. These body clues can indicate how to continue with your conversation, make adjustments accordingly, validate the individual's feelings and mirror his or her current posture.

Voice. A voice can be mirrored just like a body. People feel more comfortable with someone who speaks in a similar manner. The voice includes the tone, tempo or rhythm; volume; accents; cadence; pitch and timbre. If you want to mirror an individual's voice, it is necessary to listen to all of these characteristics and match as many as possible.

Vocabulary Statements. There is nothing worse than listening to someone who uses dollar words in a quarter environment. It does not take long when talking with someone to ascertain their level of education and the level of vocabulary that is appropriate for them. The use of big words can put others off. Spice your conversation with words that are local and appropriate for the customs in the area where you are speaking. Also avoid using technical jargon. The use of specialized terms implies, "I know something you don't know...na nana, na na!" When you mirror an individual's statement, you are using good reflective listening skills and summarize what the person has indicated.

Breathing. This is the ultimate in subtle mirroring. Breathing is a very unconscious process and is seldom detected by the other individual. Every breath we take is directly related to our emotional feelings. When we are calm, we breathe easily. Some people breathe faster when they are stressed. Breathing like another will create a very strong rapport almost instantly.

Energy. We all have various energy states. Some are more energetic in the morning while other individuals do not begin to tick until the late afternoon. Traditionally some people are easy going most of the time while someone else will be hyper. Note your own energy level in relationship to the other person's. If you are a high energy person and the other individual is slow moving, consider lowering your energy level to make them feel more comfortable and at ease.

Mirroring is about creating similarity and trust with another individual. It is not mimicking the other person. It is the process of reflecting an individual's physical attitudes and vocal patterns. It is a powerful communication tool and is not to be taken lightly. It must be honest, natural and spontaneous. Practice with friends and family members before you begin to use the technique in the business world. With practice, it will become second nature to you. Soon you'll be looking in the mirror saying, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who creates the best rapport of all?" Don't be surprised if it states, "Why you, of course!"

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