“I’ll leave that to you,” she says as he lights his own. Their chemistry is so searing, it’s amazing that anyone even needs a match.
To Have and Have Not is a smoker’s classic (those were the days!); if you’ve ever noticed the interactions among a group of smokers, you’ve seen how one person lighting up seems to trigger the desire for a cigarette in their comrades. It’s wonderfully illustrative of a connection between two people, strengthened by the unintentional bond created by mirror neurons.
In previous issues of MarketPulse, we’ve discussed the science of body language and the flashing of unconscious signals. If you recall, words only account for 7% of the message impact; the other 93% is received through tone of voice and body language. Your vocal tenor, how you hold your hands, and even where you point your toes—these things all have latent meaning to the person you’re speaking with.
Mirroring and matching creates rapport. Have you ever had an interaction with a stranger that left you thinking (or simply feeling) she really knows me, she really gets me? It might be that she matched you in some way. Maybe she noticed that you shied away from eye contact, so she didn’t try to meet your gaze. Maybe you gestured broadly with your hands when you spoke, and she did the same. And maybe you couldn’t quite put your finger on it, but you were really feeling the mirror neurons.
Let’s back up. In the 1980s, researchers at the University of Parma in Italy were studying the brains of macaque monkeys when they made an unexpected discovery: that the same brain cells which fired when a monkey performed an action (in this case, reaching for a peanut) also sparked when the monkey watched one of the researchers performing the same action. They called these cells mirror neurons, but one could also call them empathy receptors.
Because humans have a capacity for feeling that macaques can only dream of, further studies revealed that humans’ mirror neurons fire not just when they see someone else perform an action, but when they pick up on the other’s intent and feelings. Scientifically speaking, that’s pretty fabulous; it’s also a valuable interpersonal tool for a producer who wants to make a more attuned connection with a reticent prospect or dissatisfied customer.
We tend to pay too much attention what we’re saying and doing, and too little to the person we’re communicating with. As a result, we’re just not in sync, and our words can fall on deaf ears. Here are a few ideas for enhancing attunement (and strengthening our power of influence):
Take a little time to focus on how your prospect is talking (without ignoring what they’re saying). Can you get a feel for their mood based on their tone of voice, or how much eye contact they make? Can you pick up on the hesitancy or excitement in their gestures? Can you reflect that mood, those feelings, back to them?
Before you answer “yes,” consider these two cautions: don’t match and mirror too much, and don’t do it if you’re insincere. Mimicking every gesture a prospect makes comes across as just that, mimicking. Monkey see, monkey do. (Like I said, mirroring and matching is a little more complex in humans than macaques.) And nothing puts off a prospect more quickly than a disingenuous sales pitch—after all, if you’re picking up on their nonverbal cues, chances are they’re picking up on yours.
Part of the secret to Bogie and Bacall’s mesmerizing matching is its genuineness. They weren’t just two actors playing at love for work’s sake, but two smokin’ people falling in love in real life.
No one expects you to develop that much rapport with a prospect. Just open up your empathy receptors. Listen carefully, watch with a discerning eye, and try to meet the prospect where they’re at. If they’re not feeling gregarious, neither are you. If they’ve got spring fever, so do you. Follow your natural responsive urges rather than trying to deliberately ape your prospect, and see where all those mirror neurons can take you.