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In the 1990s, Italian researchers led by Giacomo Rizzolatti worked with macaque monkeys. During their study, these scientists stumbled upon an intriguing phenomenon. They discovered that the monkeys’ brain cells that fired when they performed actions like grabbing a nut also lit up when they merely watched others carry out the same activities. In other words, the monkeys’ brains responded as if they had done those things even when they were just observers. The scientists called the brain cells responsible for this event “mirror neurons.”

Fast forward a few years and scientists have recorded a similar phenomenon in humans. We also have mirror neurons, and they are far more sophisticated than those of the macaque monkeys. They help us feel empathy and understand the actions and even the intentions of others. They are why witnessing the experiences of others evokes similar emotions in us. 

What’s more, these cells are responsible for mirroring; a weird but sweet thing that most people do unconsciously while hanging out with those close to them.

What’s Mirroring?

Mirroring is when a person imitates aspects of another person’s verbal and non-verbal behaviour. Put simply; it means being a copycat. But in some social contexts, being a copycat isn’t at all a bad thing. In fact, we unconsciously mimic those we like when interacting with them. This usually signals that something special is going on. It indicates that the two parties have established rapport and are in sync.

Mirroring The Prospect

While unconscious mirroring is usually the outward display of the rapport between two parties, deliberately showing its symptoms can actually help you build a connection with others. By adopting this tactic, salespeople can quickly establish common ground when interacting with their prospects.

Mirroring the prospect means to subtly emulate some of the person’s verbal and non-verbal actions like tone, volume, positive body language and facial expressions. This is usually done to show empathy. You’re saying: “hey, I get you. I’m listening, and we are on the same page.” Mirroring is also useful in making the prospect feel at ease since people are more comfortable around and tend to connect more with those who appear to be like them.

There’s plenty of evidence suggesting that mirroring improves sales people’s chances of closing deals. A study led by Dr William Maddux found that when MBA students were asked to conduct negotiations, those told not to mirror the prospect only closed a deal 12% of the time. In contrast, students asked to mirror their prospects reached an agreement 67% of the time. 

In another study reported in Harvard Business Review, retail salespeople that subtly mimicked customers who inquired about an MP3 had a 79% conversion rate. Those that acted normally sold an MP3 to only 62% of the customers. The customers who had been mirrored also had a more positive opinion of the store and were more likely to act on the sales person’s recommendations. 

If imitating a prospect’s verbal and non-verbal actions is such a good idea, what then should you focus on? In mirroring a prospect’s verbal mannerisms, pay attention to the pace and volume of the person’s speech. Then match these qualities. If he or she is talking fast or slowly, softly or loudly, do the same. Also, note the words the person uses and pose them back. For example, if he says “our bottom line skyrocketed.” You’d be better off using “bottom line” instead of “profit” in that conversation.

You can also mirror non-verbal actions like the individual’s posture and facial expressions while talking. If the prospect leans closer while talking to you, subtly mirror this action. If they clasp their hands on the desk, act natural but do it too.

Mirroring can also be adapted to emails. Notice the words and tone the prospect uses in their writing. Are they being casual or formal? Match these actions.

Exercise Caution

While mirroring can get a prospect to warm up to you faster, it can also backfire if done carelessly. For instance, being too obvious or copying unique traits like the prospect’s accent and speech impediments can come across as offensive. Also, imitating all the person does will almost certainly get you found out. This may not end well. 

But there’s a way to play it safe. Don’t be obsessively focused on imitating the prospect to foster trust, instead, be genuinely interested in what the person has to say. Show your interest by paying attention, facing the person squarely and making regular eye contact.

Final Words

We find it easier to connect with people who are just like us. But as a salesperson, you’ll meet many people who are nothing like you. In such situations, mirroring will help you make deliberate and intelligent efforts at building rapport. And cultivating this bond is pivotal to making sales because people buy from those that they like and trust. 


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