Matching And Mirroring

Last month, I introduced a technique called rapport conditioning, derived from the field of neurolinguistic programming, as a means to improve business relationships. By establishing rapport with customers, employees and supervisors, you will find your revenues, productivity and profit improving because other people will feel comfortable with you and want to do what you ask of them, whether it is awarding you a project, doing their jobs more efficiently or promoting you.

We have learned that you can ask questions and observe eye movements during conversation to identify whether someone is primarily visual, auditory or kinesthetic. Then, you can modify your own language to parallel that preference. Using words such as “picture” or “examine” or “watch” will subconsciously appeal to the visual client, while the kinesthetic person responds to “support” or “grasp,” and you can use “listen” or “discuss” with the auditory person. Influence follows the rapport that develops when you use the other person’s primary communication modality in conversation.

We know that only 7 percent of any communication depends on the words we choose, and the other 93 percent of the message is interpreted through voice (tone, inflection, volume) and body language. Visual, auditory or kinesthetic preferences are reflected in breathing patterns, for example. Visual people breathe faster and higher in the chest, while kinesthetic people breathe slower and deeper.

Breathing patterns affect which muscles are used, and changes in facial and neck muscles affect the tempo, pitch and intonation of our speech. Auditory people tend to speak in pleasant tones at a moderate, rhythmic pace, while visual people express themselves louder and faster. There also is a correlation between body type and preferred system, so posture, gestures and energy level can be observed and mirrored to develop rapport and influence.

The table summarizes variations in these qualities, and you can learn to match and mirror anyone with practice. The most important thing to remember is to wait a minute or two before you alter your own position or voice, to avoid playing a game of mimicry. 

Here’s how it works. Visual people live “high” in their bodies. They breathe faster, gesture more, and speak faster, at a higher volume, and with more energy. Most teachers and public speakers, actors and performers primarily use visual representation to communicate. When you are selling to, working with, or reporting to a visual person, use your best posture, ramp up your energy level, and speak a little louder and faster, gesturing freely.

An auditory person lives in rhythm with the world, and you will want to breathe smoothly and use your most pleasantly modulated tone of voice. Your auditory co-worker will be highly annoyed if you crack your gum or play dissonant music in his work area.

A kinesthetic person lives in the personal land of emotion and touch. Relax, sit comfortably, and don’t rush through a presentation. If possible, hand over a sample or use a model to demonstrate your points. The other person may slouch and look down frequently to consult his “gut” before deciding what to do.

Be casual when you practice mirroring someone else’s body language. As you shake hands and take your seat for a meeting, lean back if the other person does so, and gradually shape your posture to mirror his but with slight variations to avoid exact replication. If he scratches his chin, you might touch your jaw. If he tilts his head to the side and steeples his hands, you might tilt your own head to the other side and fold your own hands. The most important part of matching and mirroring is to follow his movements casually and with a slight delay.

Here is the best part. You can check for rapport by attempting to lead the other person. Simply adjust your own physical position and watch what happens. If the other person follows, you are in rapport, and you have some influence over the result of your meeting.

Remember to mirror both physical characteristics and language to build rapport. A visual person will respond to you if you “paint a picture” of your proposed idea, while the kinesthetic person may want to “get a handle on” the idea. You can ask the auditory person if what you have said “rings a bell” to verify understanding. 

Smooth communication is a learnable skill. As you practice matching and mirroring, you create the foundation for great relationships and the power to influence the people who make your company successful. Most important, they will enjoy being influenced. 

Next month, we’ll explore more strategies for using the technique of rapport conditioning.

About the Author

Denise Norberg-Johnson

Financial Columnist
Denise Norberg-Johnson is a former subcontractor and past president of two national construction associations. She may be reached at .

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.