What Is Mirroring?

Definition & Examples of Mirroring

Two men looking at a tablet. They're seated next to each other and both are smiling.
••• andresr / Getty Images

Mirroring occurs when one person imitates the verbal or nonverbal behaviors of another. In business settings, this is often done to build rapport and goodwill.

Learn more about mirroring and how it works.

What Is Mirroring?

We often unconsciously mirror those we are close to. Mirroring tends to happen automatically between people who know each other well. Good friends will often use the same words or phrases and adopt the same gestures, particularly when they're together. Spouses do it, too, and anyone with a toddler knows that small children are experts at mirroring a person. This kind of unintentional mirroring frequently happens in families and kids adopt the behavior they see in their parents and older siblings.

You can also mirror other people consciously to build rapport. With mirroring, one person adopts the other person's verbal and non-verbal behaviors in a subtle way. When done correctly, it can make you seem more likable, which is critical to building rapport and laying the groundwork for sales.

How Mirroring Works

Mirroring is a powerful tool in sales. It can lead your prospect into subconsciously believing that you're acting like them because you're their friend, or that you'd make a great friend because you're so much like them. Salespeople can use mirroring to trust with their prospects quickly.

Mirroring generally works best during one-on-one conversations rather than in meetings or sales presentations that involve one-way communication with a group of other people. In these situations, though, you don't have to forgo mirroring altogether. If you notice a prospect using a certain word or phrase during a conversation, you might choose to add it to your presentation for a subtle boost later. 

If you're not sure where to start, consider mirroring someone's verbal pace and volume. This is subtle and doesn't run the risk of putting someone off by obvious physical mimicry.

What to Avoid When Mirroring

Physical mirroring can be tricky, particularly if you're going to do it successfully. Avoid mirroring a person's accent or copying any unusual phrases. Additionally, avoid mirroring any negative body language, such as crossed arms, turning away, or closing your eyes.

It's essential to be subtle, as mirroring only works if the prospect doesn't realize what you're doing and that you're doing it on purpose. If a prospect does pick up on your behavior, they may think you're making fun of them. This is particularly the case if you mimic something unique to them, such as the way they speak certain words. Overt mirroring can feel insulting to a client, and you risk turning into a caricature of them, which is sure to offend. 

Alternatives to Mirroring

Effectively mirroring can be challenging. You can mimic a wide range of nonverbal behaviors, including eye contact, posture, distance, and even dress.

For it to be subtle, mirroring needs to be based on more than just the other person's nonverbal cues. You need to be empathetic and aware of the emotional state of the person you're interacting with. If you're not sure whether mirroring is appropriate, find other ways to build rapport with the person you're interacting with.

For example, active listening can help you build rapport because it makes the other party feel heard. With active listening, you ask specific questions and listen to the answers without interrupting. You may paraphrase what the person said to show that you understand (or correct misunderstandings). You can share similar experiences that may build a bond between you and the person you're interacting with.

You can also build rapport by finding common interests. Sharing common experiences can build a sense of goodwill.

Key Takeaways

  • Mirroring is when one person imitates the verbal or nonverbal behaviors of another. In business settings, this is often done to build rapport and goodwill.
  • We unconsciously mirror those we're close to. We can consciously mirror others to build rapport. 
  • Mirroring generally works best during one-on-one conversations rather than in meetings or sales presentations.
  • Physical mirroring can be trickly. Avoid mirroring negative body language or someone's accent. 
  • Empathy and active listening are effective alternatives to mirroring. 

Article Sources

  1. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services. "Retail Salespeople's Mimicry of Customers: Effects on Consumer Behavior." Accessed Sept. 3, 2020.