Mirror, Mirror

By — on / Daily, Negotiation Skills

Adapted from “The View from the Other Side of the Table,” by Adam D. Galinsky (Northwestern University), William W. Maddux (professor, INSEAD), and Gillian Ku (professor, London Business School)first published in the Negotiation newsletter.

Believe it or not, you can become a better negotiator simply by learning how to effectively mirror your opponent. Psychologist Tanya Chartrand of Duke University has demonstrated that most of us automatically and unconsciously mimic others’ mannerisms, from chin rubbing to arm crossing to sitting upright in a chair. In fact, this tendency is most pronounced in individuals who have a high ability to take others’ perspective.

Why is mimicry so effective? Because we have a natural affinity for people who are similar to us, it’s no surprise that communicating this “sameness” through our behavior makes people like us more. Mimicking others can lay the groundwork for positive interpersonal interactions. In one simple but compelling study, psychologist Rick van Baaren of the University of Nijmegen (The Netherlands) demonstrated that instructing wait staff to mimic their customers resulted in bigger tips.

Research by Adam Galinsky, William Maddux, and Gillian Ku shows that mimicry can be an effective strategy in negotiations. When the researchers instructed buyers in a simulated negotiation to mimic sellers’ mannerisms (face touching, foot tapping, etc.), they found a greater percentage of interest-based deals. And when they instructed negotiators to mimic their opponents in a job-negotiation exercise, they achieved higher joint gains. Negotiators in dyads in which at least one person mimicked the other reported higher levels of liking, rapport, and perspective taking.

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