Friday, April 4, 2008

Don't Sit Like a Stump – Unless the Other Guy Does It First

It is called mirroring. (See a vivid example of technique below.) The debate rages as to whether it [mirroring] is effective or not. That is, does it increase your chances of moving others if you mirror their nonverbal and sometimes verbal communication style? I don’t care about the debate so much. Bottom line is that by being more like those around you there is at least a smaller chance of being offensive so why not. My question is where do people learn this or is it innate? Did someone say to Barack, “Sit with your hands folded and your legs crossed so you don’t take up much space? Using space is seen as a dominant feature and you don’t want to do anything to bring about aggression.” Or, is Mr. Obama just self-aware enough to know that he should chameleon himself into his surroundings when the occasion calls for it. Or, is this how he sits whether waiting in the doctor’s office or being on national TV? He is a bit girly at times. I like that about a man myself.


I don’t teach my clients how to “read” other people’s behavior. Instead we help them understand what they may be doing naturally that is advancing or detracting from their success. It is more fun than it sounds…really. Some fixes are easy. Like an insurance executive who was not well liked by the higher-ups, one of whom decided that there was “something” about the way he interacted that needed to be “fixed.” Mr. Insurance was physically a big man who used a lot of space; too much space to suit his rather conservative and socially introverted bosses. It was an insurance company after all. At first he did not take kindly to simple suggestions that to him seemed trite. Did I mention he was Italian? [I know, insurance, Italian, what’s up with that?] But, in the end, he accepted that physical communication was certainly as important as the words coming out of his mouth, especially if the carefully chosen words were not being heard because of something else he was doing.

Mirroring can be a tool. Even if you don’t buy that doing what I do will somehow make you more likable; to me, it is difficult to argue that the inability to chameleon yourself to the interaction can be a distraction. Try it. Without looking like a mime, the next chance you get to slow down your speech, lean forward, fold your hands, tilt your head, pace, or any number of other behaviors, go for it. At a minimum you will entertain yourself.

[Leave me your comments using the "comment" button directly below this post. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.]

5 comments:

Krisitn said...

Interesting post. I didn't see the whole interview, but did catch the beginning when he greeted the hosts. Thought it was interesting how he approached each person differently as if was aware of their opinion or support - a handshake for Hasselbeck (Repub) and hugs for others.

Anonymous said...

Obama is very adaptable. He always has the “right” expression for every circumstance—Jon Stewart or debate. Big live group or small group. I think he is a natural. Lots of politicians can do the speechifying. Few do good, relaxed interviews. He can. I would love to know whether he is being trained on nonverbal behavior or if it comes naturally to him.

Anonymous said...

Nice to see someone taking to heart information and feedback about phsycial spacing and related cues. Many people think that is junk science but glad the insurance guy was open minded!

Anonymous said...

It seems if you really, I mean really, tune into the other person, mirroring should take care of itself. Of course, as with many things, you have to practice to make it come across natural.

Theresa Zagnoli said...

Thanks to everyone for their thoughtful comments. I agree with the sentiments of "anonymous" about Obama's adaptability - whether on a debate or American Idol - he gets it.

Keep those comments coming readers...