By Chris Simmons
Mirroring a person’s body language – also known as physical mirroring – is one of the simplest, effective, and universal tools to make someone feel comfortable and “at ease.” It conveys the impression you are understood, share similar attitudes, and are emotionally in synch. In doing so, not only do you see yourself in the other person, you subconsciously link them to the positive feelings they’ve created. This quickly leads to rapport and as a result – influence. Interestingly, it is for these reasons we do not mirror people we dislike or strangers.
Despite our predisposition to routinely mirror image, most people are woefully unaware of its importance in establishing and sustaining emotional connections, as well as the many forms in which it occurs. Consciously or unconsciously, we’ve all mirror-imaged someone else from time to time. Perhaps while interacting with a friend, flirting with an interesting person, or playing with an infant. Chances are, in your last face-to-face meeting with a close friend, you mimicked certain things they did. In most situations, these actions are involuntary and sincere.
The most common body language mirrored includes stance, body angle, gestures, posture, and seating position. Additionally, voice inflection, speaking speed, accents, speech patterns and even breathing can become synchronized in highly connected individuals. During mirroring, there is always a leader and a follower(s), although the roles easily ebb and flow. The leader can consciously test the success of his/her mirroring by introducing gestures the follower hasn’t used and noting how quickly the action is mimicked. Functionally, the leader holds more influence at any given moment while the follower is cultivating a deeper level of rapport.
Additionally, research proves in extreme situations, mirroring can extend to synchronized blinking, raising of the eyebrows, pupil dilation and flaring of the nostrils. Known as micro-gestures, most of these actions cannot be consciously imitated.
Bear in mind, however, that men and women mirror differently. A woman, for example, is four times more likely to mirror another woman than a man would mirror another man. Furthermore, a woman will freely mimic a man, whereas a man generally only mirrors a woman when flirting. Women are also twice as likely to express emotions through facial expressions and body language. For example, it would not be uncommon for a woman to display six facial gestures during a 10 second conversation (half the expressions reflecting comprehension and the other half mirroring). Significantly, women capture meaning through voice tone and use body language to factor in the speaker’s emotional condition. Finally, as a group, women are generally more attentive to mirroring details and in detecting discrepancies.
A few words of caution for conscious mirroring: never echo someone’s negative signals, do not be obvious, and because of the general public’s growing awareness of this phenomenon – do not be overly hasty in mirroring someone you’ve just met.
Interestingly, mirroring protocols vary depending on whether an individual is one-on-one, in a group social setting, or in the workplace; more on the latter two scenarios soon.