Become a mirror


How can we build a good relationship with someone?

Put your tongue out at a baby and if it isn’t too young you may get a surprise – it does the same to you! There’s something pleasing about this for us (and probably the baby!) Watch a dance group where they move in close synchrony and somehow it makes the dance more special than watching just one person performing the same routine.

We are social creatures and we express this connection through being similar to others – even the biker who wears leathers and heavy boots is showing that he’s a member of a group and is conforming to their dress ‘code’.



Being Different

But when we suggest difference – even in an arbitrary way, then people behave less warmly. One study carried out at a summer camp in the US showed the power of identification… and non-identification. At random some children were given blue shirts to wear, while others were given red. The blues were called the ‘Eagles’ and the reds were called the ‘Hawks’. No explanation was given about this, and nothing further was done to discriminate between the two ‘groups’. After a while some friendships broke down because one child was an ‘Eagle’ and the other a ‘Hawk’. Eventually the children had split so clearly into these two artificially-created groups and enmity between them had become so strong that steps had to be taken to reunite the children. We clearly are influenced by the most trivial of signals that make us feel connected to or disconnected from others.



Getting others to like us

A 1999 study showed that we can use our body postures to create a stronger relationship with others – something called Matching. Researchers sat one-to-one with students, showing them various photos and asking them about their opinions of each image. In some cases the researcher would subtly match the posture of the student – if the student leaned back then the researcher would do the same; if a student folded his arms the researcher would do this too. In other cases, though, the researcher would sit as he/she felt like and made no attempt to copy the student’s body posture.
None of the students noticed that they were being copied, yet those who had been Matched judged their researchers to be more likeable and thought the interactions had gone better than did students who weren’t Matched.

Five years later these findings were replicated and expanded upon. Here researchers discovered that students who had been Matched became more altruistic. After the meeting, when someone ‘accidently’ dropped a pen those students who had been Matched would pick it up in 84% of cases; while those who weren’t matched picked it up only 48% of the time.

Another study showed the power of Matching other people’s words. Dutch researchers found that waiters who said the same thing as customers got larger tips; while charity workers could get bigger donations by Matching the words of those they approached for money.



So how's it done?

Clearly we can make friends and influence people better when we allow ourselves to find something about the person such as her tone of voice, speed of talking, body posture, or anything else that we can notice and then we Match it.

Now obviously, if you're discovered copying someone's every move, you might seem a little creepy. But if you notice one or two aspects of the person’s body posture and copy it, and perhaps identify what speed the person operates at (how quickly he or she speaks or gestures) and you do the same in a subtle way then you will tend to build a better relationship.

Try it!