In 1999, Tanya Chartrand and John Bargh conducted experiments that provided the scientific basis for describing the ‘chameleon effect,’ a social influence tool. They studied imitation, which is a natural human behavior - in the first days of life, newborns begin to imitate those around them, and as adults we tend to like people who behave similarly to ourselves. Based on these observations, a sales technique called the ‘mirror technique’ was created. The technique is also reflected in NLP.

Tanya Chartrand and John Bargh conducted a study involving interviewing study participants while performing certain movements during the conversation, e.g. gesturing with the face, smiling, or shuffling the feet. It turned out that a large portion of the participants in the study naturally repeated the gestures of the people with whom they were conversing. In the next part of the study, the roles were reversed. This time, the researchers imitated the movements of the chosen conversation partners. As a result, the participants assessed them as nice and sympathetic, which was not the same in cases where the researchers did not mimic the participants’ gestures and expressions. The study concluded that copying the behavior of the other person (their facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice) leads to a better relationship, based on greater trust and attractiveness.

And what about NLP?

The neurolinguistic programming theory was created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, who explored the area of human knowledge based on principles and tools that facilitate our understanding of thought processes in learning, making changes, and interpersonal communication. The popularity of NLP results from many sources, including research of famous psychotherapists in the 1960s and 1970s , including Milton Erikson, Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir. Looking for practical applications, it also draws on the experience of scientists and businessmen, including Albert Einstein and Walt Disney. Among numerous techniques considered by some to be techniques of persuasion and manipulation, there is rapport, a French word which describes behaviors affecting the subconscious of the conversation partner - behaviors based on assumptions very similar to those supporting the mirror technique.

Rapport - building relationships based on imitation

The term defines the ability to build relationships with conversation partners, which leads to a bond based on mutual understanding and trust. According to proponents of NLP, good interpersonal relationships are characterized by certain typical behaviors that take place in stages, i.e. pacing, matching, and mirroring each other. Interestingly, imitation isn’t about noticeable or exaggerated copying of the other person’s movements. Effective harmonisation and reflection are based on a subtle, often unconscious adjustment of gestures, attitudes, tone of voice, and pace of speaking to match our conversation partner. This in turn allows you to reach the next stage, called leading, which consists of changing behavior in order to lead the other person towards certain decisions or behaviors. Leading makes the conversation work according to your schedule or triggers specific behaviors or emotions.

Rapport-building levels:

  • posture - closed or open, in a certain position, e.g. sitting, standing, bending, legs crossed, etc.,
  • eye contact,
  • gestures,
  • facial expressions,
  • speed and volume of speech,
  • intonation,
  • and breath.

Put the theory into practice

An effective salesperson must have extensive knowledge, which is not limited to knowledge of the product or service offered. Their resources must include knowledge of psychology, marketing, and basic financial analysis, which are necessary for effective business conversations. Acquired knowledge must be constantly translated into commercial reality, and skills must constantly be polished and put into practice. You already know that the mirror technique, the chameleon effect, or the NLP rapport technique are based on scientifically-proven behaviors aimed at reflecting and conforming to the other person. So how do you translate your knowledge into specific activities?

Example 1. Meeting with a client

The first, very important step is preparing for the meeting. Nowadays, access to the Internet (mainly social media) gives you great opportunities to obtain information about your client before you decide to make your first visit. When looking for information about a client, you can, at least to some extent, determine what position they hold, where they work, and what is the organisational culture of their company. Use this information to choose, for example, the right outfit, matching the style your client prefers. While the colour and texture of the material don’t matter much, showing up in a casual outfit at a company where employees wear formal business attire may compromise your negotiating position.

During a business conversation, carefully observe the client’s body language. Pay attention to their posture, gestures, facial expressions, speech tempo, and so on. At the first stage, try to subtly match the client’s behavior, and in the next phase of the conversation, try to reflect them on different levels. When you manage to build a professional yet friendly atmosphere, you won’t have to wait long to see the effects of the mirror technique - in such situations, both parties start to unconsciously reflect each other’s behavior, which significantly increases your chances of a successful sale (of course, assuming, of course, that you go through the sales conversation pattern correctly and have complete knowledge of the product or service offered).

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