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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

Try Mirroring to Build Rapport

Published March 30, 2013 6:08 PM by Glen McDaniel

We all know the saying "birds of a feather flock together."  This does not only refer to the fact that those with common interests and values tend to be friends and hang around each other.

Research has shown that adopting synchronous body language (essentially mirroring someone else) tends to make the individuals feel closer without consciously knowing why.  This is a technique you can use to your advantage every single day.

I was reading posts on a social networking  job board recently, and when a senior-level job hunter mentioned the use of mirroring in job interviews there was a huge level of interest by many who had surprisingly not heard of this technique before. Actually this technique has been known for quite a while and is practiced in disciplines from debating to social sciences to psychology to even criminal justice and mediation.

Some theorize that mirroring is an essential evolutionary survival tool. For example, body language and reflexes like yawning are mirrored not only in humans, but also in many of our primate ancestors. While that device might not spell our literal survival today, it can still mean the difference between success and failure in many social interactions.

Let's look at how it might be used in an interview situation. You might choose to adjust your body dynamic and speech pattern to match those of the decision maker. Everything from the tone or volume of voice to body posture may be significant.

To use mirroring, try the following:

  • Carefully observe the person's body language, including gestures and posture. If the person is sitting with both hands clasped, then sit erect and do not be overly animated and familiar.  As the person grows more comfortable with you, he or she may relax and sit back. In that case,  mirror this change in posture as well.
  • Mirror the other person's spoken language. If he or she uses simple, direct words, then you should too. If the person speaks in technical language, then match that style if appropriate. When you respond, you can also reiterate key words or phrases that he or she used.
  • Copy the other person's speech patterns, such as vocal tone and volume. For instance, if he or she speaks softly and slowly, then lower the volume and tempo of your voice. Research by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) suggests this is the most effective way to establish rapport. It's very subtle, but it makes the other person feel comfortable and, most importantly, it makes them feel that they're being understood. The FBI uses this method a lot in interrogating witnesses and persons of interest.

Mirroring works because it creates empathy. So it can be effective not just for interviews, but in casual conversations at a party, dispute resolution sessions, meeting with your boss, giving a speech and a whole host of other scenarios. People just tend to like those who are like them or those who they perceive as being on their "team."

During the discussion on the website I mentioned, the author of the post offered specific words to say and suggested that a literal imitation of body language during an interview will land one a job. I have to disagree.

The body language and stance of an interviewer (sitting, standing, crossing their legs, leaning in, sitting straight up in a chair) all give different signals and the other person automatically feels "sympatico" if you give off similar "vibes." But don't think you can copy them too deliberately and literally, like "monkey see monkey do." If you do that you will look silly and the other person will be amused or even offended.

The best advice is to follow the "vibe" and act in a generally similar manner. Convey the same sense of relaxation or formality. You do not want to mimic the interviewer or your boss.

One less obvious way of building rapport is to discuss areas of similar interest unrelated to the interview. Do you see a certificate on the ball, a pennant, or a cup that suggests an alma mater or fraternity? Mention that in a complimentary manner and establish common ground.

Also if the interviewer mentions something topical such an item in the news, weigh in without being too controversial or opinionated. Make a safe sympathetic comment and he/she will feel you are similar in some way.  Points already gained.

Conventional wisdom suggests you should always be enthusiastic during an interview. Certainly be energetic and engaged; give the impression you care and want to offer a solution.  For example at some point in the interview you might ask about the biggest challenge or gap this vacancy is causing for the company and offer a suggestion or two.

But I have had several bosses and colleagues who are turned off by this approach and have complained about interviewees being too chatty or aggressive; or even taking over the interview. So use this technique carefully.

There is no doubt that mirroring works. I just want to say there are no secret "open sesame" magic words to land you every job.  However, using mirroring techniques subtly and judiciously is definitely advantageous.

1 comments

I heard about this technique before and I never tried it myself. But I must say I have interviewed people for a job before both in CLS and in retail before I was a CLS.

I do find there are sometimes you just like someone off the bat and dont even know why. Two people could have  identical experience and qualificationa and one just stands out.

It is hard to explain how you get a feeling and it may be because the person is building rapport with you.

As an employee I also feel better about some interviews than others. It is not only because I did better, but I feel almost like I know some interviewers while others are  more distant. I never thought about it before. But now that I have read this and think about it, I think it had  to do with building rapport.  When I was the employee maybe I was using that technique or the employer sensed something about me that he or she liked.

This techniques is something I will definitely use more consciously going forward.

Brandon Gonzales April 11, 2013 5:41 PM
San Antonio TX

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