What Do Mirrors Have to Do with Effective Persuasion?

I still remember a classic cartoon in The New Yorker that depicted a hiring manager and a job candidate sitting across a desk from each other, looking like mirror images. The hiring manager said, “I don’t know what it is about you, but I really like you!”

You look like me, and I like that about you.

Behavioral reflection can create more agreement, faster. It’s imperative to mirror your target’s body language, but the key is subtlety. If your target knows he or she is being mimicked, your persuasion prospects are greatly diminished.

It’s dangerous to hire, befriend, or support only those people who resemble us, and that’s not the point here. But making others feel comfortable by your actions is strong persuasion. That can be accomplished by “mimicking” (and I mean that in the best possible sense of the term; mimicking is not “mocking”) others’ own comfort zones.

The most obvious behavioral reflections include examples you probably already feature in your repertoire: Don’t remain seated if someone who is standing begins speaking with you. Smile if the other person smiles in greeting. Show proper facial expressions as the conversations develops. Don’t begin eating until everyone at the table has been served and your host begins to eat.

Those should be fairly obvious (though in today’s educational environment and lax society, you can never be sure). But what about more subtle forms?
Look at the person speaking, but don’t reveal any indication that you might be skeptical or feel exasperated. Don’t shift nervously, and attempt to match the speaker’s own level of energy and excitement, or his low-key minimalist nature. This is not manipulative body language; rather it comforts, enhances communication, and strengthens your persuasion power.

Reflect on situations you expect to be in and the people you expect to join you. Rather than constantly interrupt someone who needs to “think out loud,” exhibit patience and make that person feel at ease with his own cognitive processes. Similarly, don’t demand that someone who doesn’t get excited join in your excitement. Moderate your tone, and never insist on your own comfort. If people prefer to stand and converse, or chat over a meal, or sit in casual furniture, or walk about the property, join them. The more comfortable they are, the more likely they will be to listen to your case.

In new situations, take time to observe and evaluate the other person’s preferences. Mirror what you see. In ongoing situations, prepare accordingly for what you’ve experienced in the past. The key to the artistry of persuasion is flexibility — not some perfect style or behavioral predisposition.

All of this is simple to understand but may require time and practice in perfecting. Amazing things can happen when you adjust to environmental conditions in order to make your point.

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