I first learned of the mimic/mirror theory when a client remarked to me that it made him uncomfortable that I dressed so nicely. Huh? I thought that was how I was supposed to dress. Aren’t I supposed to look professional? As a software engineer at a pre-IPO, he worked outrageous hours and was so proud to tell me, “I haven’t even had time to brush my teeth today.” His style of dress was strictly for the comfort of sitting in a chair at a monitor and keyboard for endless hours each day. His appearance could have caused this multi-millionaire to be mistaken for a homeless vagrant. Nothing he wore, drove or owned revealed that he was one of the wealthiest individuals in town – and one of the most humble and appreciative.
It was an easy adjustment. I love jeans and tennis shoes; he gave me an excuse to wear them. But my colleagues were confused. “Who’s that guy and why are you coming into the office dressed like that? Are you sure he can afford a house?” I was face-to-face with the new generation of home buyer.
I took this new awareness and melded it into my business practice. One of the first things I try to evaluate about a new client is their style; their style of dress, their style of speaking, their mannerisms. I understand the importance of being professional. I also understand that it can be perceived by some as a desire to appear to be superior. It visibly makes people more comfortable when they meet another who is like them. That’s how we become friends. We are similar in a variety of ways that connect us. Hobbies connect us. The type of car we drive connects us. Our similar professions connect us. Our mutual acquaintances and friendships connect us.
An effective way to build rapport is to mirror, in a most respectful way, of course. It’s been suggested in materials I’ve read that in order to really take this to a higher level, you should mimic a particular accent. In my opinion, that tactic is a bit much. However, if you gradually move into their stance or pause for a moment and then sit back in your chair as they do, you will relate in new ways.
We are animals – at the top of the food chain – but still animals. We are ruled by our senses. Much is communicated without a word being said. I’m sure at some point you’ve been told, “Don’t look at me that way.” We are attracted or not by scent and sight. The tone of a voice can be appealing or annoying. Everything in your appearance, presentation and attitude, spoken or not, can impact the relationships we create. Why not initiate a positive response by acting compassionately and empathetically to clients by using your body and mind to walk in their shoes and to truly be present in the moment.