Building Rapport – Mirroring

Mirroring occurs when two people, as they interact and get to know each other better, subconsciously begin to mimic each other’s mannerisms.

Mirroring and Science

Psychologists believe mirroring is an evolved behavior that helps us create emotional bonds with each other. The behavior is connected to mirror neurons in our brain, which help us empathize with others.

Mirroring explains why romantic partners start to act and even look alike the longer they’ve been together. (I think mirroring explains why this happens, too, but that’s my personal extrapolation.)

What’s not so established is if the causality can be reversed:

If Person A and Person B know each other well, they will start to mirror each other. So what if Person A makes a conscious effort to mirror Person B? Will Person B subconsciously feel more connected to Person A as a result?

Autism has been connected to dysfunctional mirror neurons, which hinders an autistic person’s ability to create emotional connections to others. Interestingly, encouraging imitative behavior in kids with autism has been shown to improve their social responsiveness. This would suggest that the causality between mirroring and emotional connection can in fact be reversed.

Mirroring and Sales

Although the science is a bit sketchier, within the realm of sales, mirroring is touted as an effective technique to build rapport quickly with a stranger. We copy the other person’s tone of voice, rate of speech, gestures, posture, vocabulary, etc., and this will subconsciously make the other person feel like we have a lot in common with them and therefore like us more.

Of course, we have to be subtle. Mirroring doesn’t mean that we parrot the other person’s exact words. If we do, they’re going to think we’re mocking them. The secret is to mirror, but make sure our mirroring only registers subconsciously in the other person.

The bottom line is that humans — and even animals — have an innate need to be acknowledged and validated. And mirroring helps accomplish this on some level.

Mirroring in Live Chat

In live chat, our ability to mirror our users is limited to text only. But that’s why it becomes more important to consider what we type, and how our typed words comes across.

Here’s an example of a chat that features prominent mirroring. Notice that Chris starts off mirroring the user, but then the user ends up mirroring Chris, too. The user’s final line makes it pretty clear that happiness was engineered here:

Thanks a lot my friend and have a great weekend

How to Mirror in Live Chat

If we want to mirror, these are some of the things we should consider:

How formal is the user’s language? Do they use slang?

If they’re formal, we reply in an equally formal manner. If they use slang, then we use slang, too. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the exact same words they use, though. Again, we don’t want to mimic them exactly. The important thing to consider is how casual is their communication style.

Are they conversational and chatty? Or are they solely concerned with getting their issue addressed?

If they’re chatty, then they may appreciate if we chat them up, too. If they just want their issue addressed, then they might feel like we’re just being distracting or unprofessional if we get too conversational.

Do they capitalize and punctuate? Or do they chat in all lowercase and skip the punctuation?

I’m not gonna lie, I can’t bring myself to type in all lowercase, and I simply have to end every sentence with a period. It’s a compulsion, I admit it.

If someone is casual with their text chatting, feel free to do the same. On the other hand, if they capitalize and punctuate, they may think we’re being unprofessional if we don’t do the same. Yes, I’m biased here, but I’m also speaking from my own personal experience when chatting as the customer with support people from other companies.

Is their communication style cold and blunt (“I want this done,” “this isn’t working,” etc.)? Or is it filled with feelings and emotion (“please help me!,” “I feel so lost,” etc.)?

Related to their chattiness, if they’re curtly asking us questions, then we answer them and move on. If they’re expressing feelings, then they will feel better if we at least acknowledge those feelings.

And this brings up the next issue:

What if the user is upset or confrontational? We certainly don’t want to mirror them in that case, right?

If the user curses at us, obviously, it would be a bad idea to curse back at them. At the same time, we can still use mirroring to help us gain the user’s trust. In fact, when a user is upset or confrontational, properly executed mirroring can help us guide them towards communicating more productively. We modify their attitude by first connecting with them, and then nudging them towards behavior that is more appropriate.

But we’ll save that for next time….

#building-rapport #tips-language #mirroring