Mirroring occurs when two people, as they interact and get to know each other better, subconsciously begin to mimic each other’s mannerisms.
Mirroring and Science
Psychologists believe mirroring is an evolved behavior that helps us create emotional bonds with each other. The behavior is connected to mirror neurons in our brain, which help us empathize with others.
Mirroring explains why romantic partners start to act and even look alike the longer they’ve been together. (I think mirroring explains why this happens, too, but that’s my personal extrapolation.)
What’s not so established is if the causality can be reversed:
If Person A and Person B know each other well, they will start to mirror each other. So what if Person A makes a conscious effort to mirror Person B? Will Person B subconsciously feel more connected to Person A as a result?
Autism has been connected to dysfunctional mirror neurons, which hinders an autistic person’s ability to create emotional connections to others. Interestingly, encouraging imitative behavior in kids with autism has been shown to improve their social responsiveness. This would suggest that the causality between mirroring and emotional connection can in fact be reversed.
Mirroring and Sales
Although the science is a bit sketchier, within the realm of sales, mirroring is touted as an effective technique to build rapport quickly with a stranger. We copy the other person’s tone of voice, rate of speech, gestures, posture, vocabulary, etc., and this will subconsciously make the other person feel like we have a lot in common with them and therefore like us more.
Of course, we have to be subtle. Mirroring doesn’t mean that we parrot the other person’s exact words. If we do, they’re going to think we’re mocking them. The secret is to mirror, but make sure our mirroring only registers subconsciously in the other person.
Mirroring in Conversations
To me, it really comes down to respecting another person’s communication style and boundaries.
If someone is very formal when they speak, we avoid using too much slang and refrain from cursing.
If someone is exuberant and energetic when they speak, we make a conscious effort not to come across as too subdued.
If someone keeps their distance physically, we avoid intruding on their personal bubble and make sure not to initiate too much — if any — physical contact.
If someone is touchy and affectionate, then we reciprocate (provided they’re not being inappropriate with their touching, of course).
And so on. Again, the point here isn’t to mimic the other person. The point is to match them to help them feel more comfortable around us.
The bottom line is that humans — and even animals — have an innate need to be acknowledged and validated. And mirroring helps accomplish this on some level.