In social situations, mirroring the behaviour of others is something we often do unconsciously. It seems to be a response that is hardwired into us as social beings. In the second in our ‘Winning with Rapport’ series Celia Carron, Founder and Managing Director of The Speaking Clinic, discusses how understanding and tapping into this natural response can give you an advantage in professional communications.

Have you ever watched two people talking and noticed similarities in their body language and manner of speaking? Perhaps you’ve noticed it in yourself before, as you subtly slip into a tone of voice similar to the person you’re chatting with. It can
feel strange when you notice yourself doing this without realising. Rest assured, it’s an entirely natural response.

Mirroring – or isopraxism – is an unconscious form of imitation that can happen when interacting with others. It’s a response that’s used by both humans and animals to comfort each other – and we rarely even notice it is happening! Once we embrace this and understand how it works, we can spot it in ourselves and use this powerful natural communications tool to our advantage in professional discussions. By consciously honing the unconscious, we can enhance our ability to build rapport and trust with others.

What is mirroring?

Quite simply, mirroring is a form of imitation. On its surface, it is copying the behaviours of others in order to form a bond with them. When mirroring, we look to copy the behaviours of those we are speaking with which may include:

Body language
We can mirror everything from posture, gestures to facial expressions.

The content of what is being said and the specific words the other person is using.

Tempo and rhythm
The speed and pace of our communications.

Tone of voice
Subtle adjustments in pitch, tone, inflection and volume to match the person we are speaking with.

Key technique: three small words with a big impact

For the purposes of this article, we are going to focus on a key technique dealing with mirroring vocabulary in order to demonstrate you are present and listening. It’s a simple skill that can have a huge impact when encouraging meaningful conversation, creating an atmosphere where people feel safe and confident to expand on issues that may be affecting them.

This technique is as easy as repeating the final or most crucial three words from what has just been said and forming them
into a question.

For example:
Person one: “I have had enough. I just want to zone out.”
Person two: “Want to zone out?”

Person one: “I’m just going to keep my head down?”
Person two: “Your head down?”

Person one: “This is what they are trying to do – cut down many levels of
Person two: “Levels of management?”

Simple but effective

Sometimes the simplest of techniques have the most impact, which is why I love the above technique that anybody can implement in their personal and professional lives.

Firstly, it has its roots in active listening. The simple repetition of what you have been told shows that you are listening and present. This is such an important element in building a bond and rapport. If the person you are speaking with feels heard and
acknowledged, they are more likely to trust you.

It also shows genuine interest in the challenges they face and empathy for how they feel. When people feel that we are interested in what they have to say and can relate to their emotions, they are more likely to speak to us with honesty and openness.

Finally, it opens our curiosity. Often in communication, we need an ‘invitation’ to talk about issues – especially those that might be challenging or personal. It opens up the conversation for more detail and gives the other person the opportunity to expand on
what they really want to say. Ultimately, this gives you more information that will enable you to make better decisions.