Generate Rapport and Advance Your Business Agenda Through Limbic Synchrony or Mirroring

Updated on February 9, 2020
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JC Scull has lived in different countries and taught International Business Relations and Strategies at a Chinese University.



This article will discuss the process of mirroring or limbic synchrony as evident in children as they grow and copy the adults around them. It will also explore how grownups use it to create bonds in their personal life and in business. It will offer examples of mirroring as well as tactical approaches for its use in business and in sales calls.

From Childhood to Adulthood

As a marketing and sales professional, the art of mirroring, scientifically known as limbic synchrony, has been an integral part of any business presentation I have ever made. I have used it as a way to build relationships, generate rapport and make people I work with feel comfortable. When done correctly, mirroring can be a powerful tool in advancing your business agenda as well as going a long way toward creating a friendly working environment.

Limbic synchrony or mirroring is an interesting phenomenon that begins even before birth, in the womb. It is when the heartbeat as well as other body functions of the mother and her unborn child begin to synchronize shortly after conception.

After we are born, we begin to mirror not only our parents, but virtually all other humans with whom we interact in a positive way. We mimic their facial expressions; we attempt to copy their body movements, even match their moods.

As we begin to grow older, the process continues, by mirroring those people we like, respect, are interested in or agree with. We adjust our voice’s pitch and tone, and even adopt some of the language or vocabulary they use.

We often adjust our posture, or the way we walk in order to match theirs. By doing all of this, we are signaling to the other person that we are connected, and that we mesh.

Mirroring Is in Our Genes

Mirroring is an important inherent child development process. It is in our genetic composition to imitate other humans around us as a way to learn, express certain feelings and eventually successfully enter society. You can see the effects of mirroring by observing parents and children's mannerism and facial expressions.

Or by closely watching siblings who were raised together and share a good relationship. Friends who know each other well, often time enter into a mutual mirroring behavioral pattern from the moment they meet.

It Originates in the Limbic System of Our Brain

The term limbic synchrony, refers to the activity that originates in the limbic system of our brain and supports such processes as emotion, behavior, motivation, long-term memory and olfaction. This is the area of the brain that collects meaningful information from observing the social behavior of others, eventually allowing us to mirror and mimic those around us. Shir, A, Talma, H, Feldman, R. (2014) R. The brain basis of social synchrony. Oxford Academic Volume 9, Issue 8.

However, mirroring does not stop after we reach a certain age. This process continues throughout our lives and can happen subconsciously or in many cases voluntarily. As it turns out, if used effectively, it can be a great way to persuade, assure or encourage those with whom we interact.

Friends, relatives, business people, and lovers mirror.
Friends, relatives, business people, and lovers mirror. | Source

Mirroring in Business and Sales Calls

Naturally, it is a great tool for sales people as well as business people in general. It can be a great way to perform well in an interview as you build rapport with the interviewer, and at the same time build confidence in your performance.

Negotiating a contract or engaging in an exploratory meeting in which you and another party are looking for common ground in a business venture or strategic alliance can help you create a cooperative atmosphere. It is obvious that the possibilities are endless.

Some Tactics

Often times this rapport building starts at the very beginning of a meeting. Many sales coaches or managers usually instruct their junior salesperson or trainee, not to launch into a sales pitch immediately. They always emphasize that it is best to try to put your client and even yourself at ease by finding some common ground to discuss and break the proverbial ice.

A good advice is that if you are coming into your client’s office to discuss business, to look around and notice how she decorates her office. If she has pictures of young children on the wall or on her desk, it is a fair assumption that these are hers.

That could be a potential conversation starter, especially if you have children of your own. If instead, you spot golf trophies or pictures of her out on the green, it might be a good idea to ask a subtle question such as; “Where do you normally play?”

If your golfing knowledge is solid, this could be a short but productive connection-building conversation that could lead to other mirroring techniques involving body language and/or facial expressions. Keep in mind that an overwhelming percentage of buying decisions are made based on emotion and the perception of trust.

While it might seem somewhat manipulative, the truth is that the short-term objective of a sales call to new prospective or even established customers is to lure them into subconsciously believing that you are just like them, and therefore their friend or even their ally. However, in a business setting convincing a sales prospect or customer is not the only objective that can be accomplished with mirroring. The mirroring techniques that can be employed in a business setting are almost endless.

Some of these tactics could be as simple as raising or lowering our voices to match the people we are meeting, or squaring our bodies directly to the person with whom we are meeting, in order to make the proper eye contact. Nodding three times in a row while listening to someone in a business meeting or sales call, can make the speaker feel more important often generating longer and perhaps more revealing conversations.

In a work setting business people are not the only ones that can benefit from mirroring. Politicians are notorious at using great mirroring techniques. Next time you are reading the news or watching a news channel on your television set, pay close attention to politicians that are engaged in a friendly announcement or in a photo op. You will see how they stand or sit in a fashion that is in total congruence with the message of friendship they are trying to convey.

Politicians and Famous People Know How to Mirror

George W. Bush and Michelle Obama's Friendship History.
George W. Bush and Michelle Obama's Friendship History. | Source

Advertisers, Lovers, Friends

Savvy advertisers use various forms of mirroring in order to convey the message to their potential customers or consumers that appeal to their sense of belonging. They do this by appealing to people’s attitudes, sense of sameness and their self-concepts. In some cases marketers strive to convince consumers to use the same products as people around them, while in other situations they try to show that the company, product or people managing the company are just like you, the potential consumer.

How many times have we seen CEOs of well-known companies advertising their products by portraying the image that they are regular folks just like you?

Amazingly, the phenomenon of mirroring goes beyond our overriding impulses to be accepted into society, to bond with our parents and siblings and even our desire to create strategies to advance our careers. Limbic synchrony is also a driver in strong friendships and love relationships.

Next time you are at a mall, park or public area, closely observe friends or romantic couples and you will notice a deep affinity to one another. You will notice how each pair is mirroring each other as they interact. Whether walking in lockstep, or synchronizing their conversation in a give-and-take rhythm or when they look at each other in perfectly timed movements.

Embodied Cognition

How this synchronic behavior becomes important, has to do with what scientist call embodied cognition. This is the “idea that the mind is not only connected to the body, but that the body influences the mind.” McNerney, S. (2011) A Brief Guide to Embodied Cognition: Why You Are Not Your Brain. Scientific American.

In essence, this creates a process by which both body and mind enter into a set of reciprocal or mutually reinforcing behaviors in which the more we mirror our partner, the greater the brain acts to create further attachment. Conversely, the greater the attachment or love, the more we mirror.

Behind the process of limbic synchrony lie what researcher have identified as mirror neurons which are largely responsible for not only simulating action but also for conation, which is the mental faculty of purpose, desire, or will to perform an action. This points to the notion that perhaps people do not use analysis and logic in order to make human connections as much as originally thought.

Instead, it seems our decisions when it comes to personal attachments are more driven by emotion, ultimately reflected in our body language and facial expressions.

Perhaps what we can learn from this very interesting human behavior we call mirroring, is that body and mind seem to have a powerful interdependent or synergetic relationship which affects socialization, attitudes to others, even love. Undoubtedly, it might be a good idea to pay more attention to it.

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