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.
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