In the 2015 film Focus starring Will Smith, his character Nicky explains to his apprentice, played by Margot Robbie, how he gets people to trust him and the telltale signs they have bought in:
You know you got ’em when they start to unconsciously mimic you. A head nod. A hand gesture. It means you’re in sync. Sociologists refer to it as the Gauchais Reaction.
The more common term for this phenomenon is mirroring, and it’s widely recognized by NLP practitioners and elite sales trainers as an important component in sales success.
Many great salespeople employ it instinctively, but it can be learned and applied in a deliberate fashion by anyone who wants to improve closing rates. You don’t need to be born a natural – I can teach you this skill in a few minutes! Better yet, you can apply this on your very next phone call, Zoom session or, if you are lucky enough, face-to-face meeting with a prospect.
First a little background.
We are built to mirror each other
Mirroring is readily observable in babies. Smile at a baby and they tend to smile back. Perform a hand gesture and even a three-month-old attempts to copy you. This is how babies learn about emotions in other people – by doing what you do they begin to feel as you do, and thereby better understand what the face and voice represent emotionally.
As we grow, most of us continue to mirror, but only when we have entered into a state of deep connection known as rapport. You know when you really dig someone and you start walking at the same pace, feeling the same vibe, and are just completely comfortable because you feel understood? That’s rapport. Mirroring helps increase it.
How was this discovered? Hungry monkeys. Yep.
Researchers noticed that certain regions of monkey brains would activate whenever they made the motion to reach for food. Surprisingly, these neurons also fired when a human reached for the food, even if the monkey didn’t move a muscle. It showed that observing another’s actions can make one’s brain feel as if it were performing the action itself. Therefore, there is empathy between the observer and the observe.
Fascinating stuff. So how do we use it?
Mirroring is most often associated with non-verbal communication, such as body language, facial expressions, limb movements, blinking speed, blushing, dilated pupils, yawning, playing with hair or fingernails, taking a sip from a cup, breathing pace, energy levels. However, most experts include verbal factors such as voice tone, speed of speech, and even dialect or accent as items which can also be mirrored.
When you are face to face, you have the most cues you can use. The basic one is to casually adopt the same posture and body language as your prospect.
However, even in these Covid-19 times, you can still mirror.
On a Zoom call, where you have more limited cues, you can still mimic the motions of the person’s eyes such as gaze direction and blink speed. If they are drinking from a mug, go grab your own mug and take a sip a few seconds after they do. If they tap their pen in their teeth, go for it. Just be subtle and wait 5 to 30 seconds before you mirror.
You can even mirror on phone calls. If the person is obviously smiling, you can hear it. Smile in turn – and they will perceive your smile as well. Match their voice tone and volume, as well as speed.
What all this does, according to the research I have checked out, is literally activate “mirror neurons” which create empathy in the person mirrored. With empathy comes connection, rapport and a deeper level of communication.
Here is a very short and basic visual just so you get the picture:
For a deeper dive into mirror neurons specifically, including the fascinating way they were discovered, check out this video from PBS NOVA:
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. For salespeople, it is also a surefire way to increase closed deals. If you have been doing the “same ol’ same ol’” I invite you to break your pattern and apply mirroring in your next sales calls. Message me here and let me know how it goes. – Shaun