Written by Sean McPheat |
Have you heard of matching and mirroring? It’s something that we regularly cover on our Sales Training Courses, but do you know what it is and the background behind it all?
It’s the concept psychologists talk about when they refer to us building unconscious rapport with another person. They talk about matching their unconscious body language and gestures so that they feel at ease in our company.
They also refer to matching or mirroring the words they use to describe their experiences. By using similar words, we can match the feelings they may be experiencing and are able to appeal to their deeper level of communication, commonly referred to as the unconscious level.
Are you aware of why this works?
Scientists have found a network of neurons in our brain that refer to as ‘mirror neurons’. These demonstrate how we are all interconnected with each other and the world in general.
In one experiment in Italy, they wired up a single neuron in a monkey’s brain to observe what was happening with it. One day, a researcher lifted his hand to eat a nut.
He noticed that the monkey’s brain cell or motor neuron had activated. These motor neurons are the largest in our brains and deal with movements and action.
The monkey didn’t move…only the motor neuron fired. Further experiments showed that when an arm movement was made by the researchers, the monkey’s arm movement neurons moved too. After much excitement, the published paper (Rizzolatti, Fadiga, Gallese & Fogassi – Premotor cortex and the recognition of motor actions. Brain Research, 3(2) pp131-141, 1996)) showed the following implications:
What this means is that when someone makes a specific body language movement, we are programmed through mirror neurons to copy the movement, if only in our minds. And as our minds can’t tell the difference between something real and something imagined, the feeling we get inside is as if we had carried out the movement.
So, we can mirror our client’s intentions, looking forward to something that may happen in the future. If you talk about something that would happen if the client used your services, you get them to imagine a future with your company. Their mirror neurons fire off to see the picture as you see it.
We pick up how people are feeling, and our minds start to mirror it. Remember that this is at a subconscious level, so you may not actually make the person match your movements, but it will be certainly easier for them if they do.
Mirror neurons have been strongly associated with how people learn. We ‘model’ other people’s ideas and so pick up ways of doing things ourselves. Have you ever felt embarrassed for someone when they make a mistake? That’s because your mirror neurons have seen the situation and imagined yourself in the same place…they determine how you would have felt if you had been in their shoes.
This explains how matching and mirroring really works. You and the other person are firing off these neurons every moment without realising it. If you can bring it to the conscious level, you can create rapport consciously with whoever you are with. You can encourage people to be on your wavelength and help them match your thought patterns.
We’ve known that embedded commands can work at a deep unconscious level for some time now. These findings of how mirror neurons work explain the reasons why.
You know that both mirroring and matching work when building rapport with a client, but do you know the difference between the two concepts?
To mirror someone is to precisely match their behaviour, mannerisms, and speech cadence back to them. Thus, mirroring involves a more deliberate copying, which, when done with the kind of discretion and respectfulness required in a successful sales scenario, can help build a positive connection to the client.
To mirror a client, you would, for example, observe their seated posture. If the client is crossing their legs, then you would cross yours, thus mirroring their posture. You would also observe their tone of voice, speech patterns, cadence, and whether they use formal or informal language.
Having identified these traits in your client, you would then copy them as closely as possible while still demonstrating the kind of respect and deference that would differentiate such behavior from mere mimicry. Finally, you can work on paraphrasing and repeating your client’s statements, thus validating what they are saying while you work on your pitch.
As a contrast to mirroring, matching refers to a more general copying of another’s behaviour. In using a mirroring technique, you might repeat the client’s words back to them directly. A matching technique would not necessarily repeat the client’s words verbatim; instead, other words might be used to convey the same idea. Likewise, you might not exactly copy your client’s mannerisms, facial expressions, or posture; instead, you might choose to adopt a stance or posture that complements your client’s without actually mirroring it.
In a retail environment, you and your client are likely to be gathered around merchandise or products or service offerings that your client is considering purchasing. These environments are high pressure and in the moment, and you have to be at your best to make the sale.
We know that mirroring and matching will greatly assist you in selling whatever the environment, but what might such techniques look like in a retail setting?
As an example, let’s say you work in a jewellery store, and your client is looking at engagement rings. Your client is likely to be nervous, excited, and trepidatious about the cost of what is basically a leap of faith.
If your client is high energy and smiling a lot as they look at the rings, then to mirror that client properly, you must exhibit the same kind of high energy and smiling as your client. Your client might lean over the display case to investigate the choices. You should also lean over the case and help your client with their choices, observing whether your client does a lot of pointing with a finger, or whether they peer into the case while grabbing onto it with both hands and leaning over. In either case, mirroring will help you build rapport with your client.
On the other hand, strict mirroring might not be called for in this instance. A matching technique may also work to build rapport. Instead of copying your client’s exact mannerisms and body language, try to adopt body language that complements that of your client.
If your client is smiling broadly and speaking in rushed tones about how excited they are to propose to a potential spouse, you can match your client – not mirror your client – in how you respond to your client’s energy. Instead of responding with rushed, excited tones, you might choose to respond with calm warmth, smiling in a welcoming and open-handed manner to show that you are excited for your client’s future and want to provide them excellent and professional service.
This matching technique might work even better than strict mirroring for this sort of high-pressure sales situation – your warm, calm, professional tones might help to put an anxious client at ease and make them more likely to buy that ring.
We cover a lot of this on our Retail Sales Training.
Business meetings, especially those in which you are attempting to close a big sale or contract, can be excellent opportunities to practice mirroring and matching. These situations are, of course, very different from the retail setting described above, but just as in a retail environment, mirroring and matching can help you close the deal.
In a business meeting, you and your client are likely to be poring over complex paperwork as you discuss the details of that big deal. Study how your client is seated at the table. If your client is leaned back and has their legs crossed, you should mirror that behavior. Likewise, if your client is hunched over the table studying the contract intently, you should also do the same.
You should also study how your client speaks. If your client uses very formal language, a slow cadence, and takes a lot of time to compose and say sentences, then you should mirror that cadence – not mimic, but mirror.
The difference between mimicry and mirroring is respect and deference. Mere mimicry would be off-putting to any client. However, proper application of mirroring techniques, repeating the kind of language your client uses while showing respect and deference to your client, will help to build rapport.
As in our retail example, you might find that direct mirroring is not the best tactic to close the sale. If your client’s energy is chaotic, their speech includes the use of a lot of informal language – or even offensive language – and their posture is not one that you are comfortable imitating, then you should use matching techniques instead. If your client uses a lot of informal language, then you should too – but don’t mirror the client’s use of offensive language. If your client splays their legs out or puts a leg on the conference table, then you should not mirror that behavior. Adopt a casual pose to match the client, but not to the extent of also hoisting your own leg onto the conference table. After all, this is a business meeting, not a party, and you should always maintain a certain decorum.
So that’s mirroring and matching in a nutshell.
Some other ways of building excellent levels of rapport are to ask quality sales questions and to improve your listening skills. No amount of mirroring and matching will trump those two qualities!
Please check out these two courses to take your sales game onto the next level. Our Sales Negotiation Training requires you to demonstrate the very best body language skills as you negotiate the deal and out Account Management Training programmes are all about building long term relationships. So, building rapport is essential if you are going to achieve that.
Updated on: 14 December, 2021
Originally published: 9 May, 2013
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