Have you ever heard the old adage that 80% of communication is nonverbal? Those who have studied psychology, cross-cultural communication, or related fields have repeatedly heard professors and experts harp on the importance of interpreting not what is said, but how it is said. However, based on studies 80% is a significant underestimate. In fact, the most widely accepted figure is about 93% – with 55% coming in the form of body language and 38% in tone of voice!
People have a natural, subconscious tendency to physically react when communicating, revealing their opinions (93% of them, at least) about whether they get along with or agree with other individuals. For example, people tend to lean forward, make eye contact, and nod to let others know they are engaged and in agreement with what is being said. Conversely, we typically cross our arms, scowl, or shake our heads when we have a contrary opinion or do not like what is going on. Only 7% of the overall meaning is conveyed through words because people – for reasons ranging from innocent social etiquette to outright deceit – do not always tell the whole truth.
What is Mirroring?
When individuals agree they tend to mimic each other’s body language, tone of voice, and speech cadence. This practice of reflecting a person’s posture and communication style is known as “mirroring”. Meaning that by mirroring someone you are giving them the impression that you are like-minded, automatically making them more comfortable and helping the conversation flow.
When people disagree, on the other hand, they often display opposite signals as their counterpart, including contrasting volume, speed, and body language. Another red flag should go up if someone throws up nonverbal signals that aren’t in congruence with their words, such as crossing their arms or shaking their head while claiming agreement with an idea – a tell-tale sign of deceit.
If you know anyone who has ever spent significant time abroad, or even in another part of the country, then you have likely seen this in action. I’m willing to bet they came back with one of the following symptoms: slight accent changes, new words or phrases, or different facial expressions and gestures. Why in the world would people change based on their environment? Like a chameleon adapting to its surroundings, people have a natural need to fit in. The way we do this is by transforming the way we act, even in the subtlest of ways, to be accepted by those around us. This makes sense because we often get along best with like-minded individuals – or those who are like us – so putting off signs that we are similar to people around us assists with the assimilation process.
Why is it Important for Job-Seekers to Know about Mirroring?
Anyone who’s aware of these concepts and can put them into practice has a huge advantage in the business world. For years therapists have been taught the technique of consciously mirroring patients’ posture to better relate to their feelings, because displaying posture similar to that of your counterpart is an excellent way to build a rapport.
If you’re going to be spending 40 (or more) hours a week with a coworker, it stands to reason that it should be someone you actually like. Since we enjoy the company of those like us, it’s likely the individual hired turns out to be someone with a personality and communication style similar to that of the interviewer.
For this reason, building rapport with the interviewer is essential. Mirroring the interviewer’s posture and other behaviors can help build trust between the two of you, as it makes both parties seem agreeable and more comfortable with each other.
How to Use Mirroring
When entering the meeting, pay attention to the level of eye contact your interviewer makes. An introverted hiring manager may be uncomfortable if you try not to break eye contact, while it is extremely important to focus on making eye contact if the interviewer tends to do so when he speaks. Another key is to pay attention to the energy of your counterpart. Does he speak loudly and fast, or slowly and soft? Sit forward and chime in while you speak, or lean back and contemplate before answering your questions? Initiating a fast, back and forth dialogue with someone who is pensive is sure to make them uncomfortable, while speaking quietly to a high-energy salesperson will yield an equally negative result. Adjusting your energy and volume accordingly will make the interviewer much more comfortable, and the outcome will follow suit.
The best way to employ this technique is to do so subtly, not immediately copy every movement the interviewer makes. If you notice them making certain gestures, such as leaning forward, nodding in agreement, or crossing their legs, wait 10 seconds to a minute before doing the same. Copying their movements right away or overusing this technique can cause to come across as disingenuous, so it’s important to focus on big picture movements instead of every slight tilt of the head or facial expression. Also, remember not to get too caught up in your attempts to use mirroring. You do still have to give thoughtful, intelligent answers, so make sure to focus on what you are saying. After all, it is an interview. Combining proper preparation with the use of mirroring techniques gives you an edge, however doing one without the other defeats the purpose. Best of luck!