Mimicry, or mirroring, is basically just following someone else’s communication style in a similar fashion.
We love to consider ourselves free thinking individuals, and yet we’re still unconsciously using mimicry all day to get other people to like us. We do it a lot, like a lot. But why?
It might include facial expressions, hand movements, even the tone of voice or the tempo of which we speak. It’s why you and your date might both put the same hand on the table, and it’s why you hardly recognize the tone of your voice when you’re around that one super loud friend.
One theory called the optimal distinctiveness theory suggests that people try to find the perfect balance between being an individual while still being likable. Our likeability, like it or not, often comes down to similarities. So, we want it to be obvious that we have a mind of our own but not to the extent that we alienate ourselves or become untrustworthy. These types of nonverbal communication tools are allowing us to express how we feel about the people around us. Of course, this can change from one social situation to the next, which means how much mimicry we engage in will also change from person to person.
We tend to increase the amount of mimicry that we’re using when we’re in situations with goals attached or when we admire the qualities of the individuals around us.
We generally don’t realize that we’re doing it, and we commonly don’t realize when people are doing it to us. We do not mimic people that we don’t like or don’t feel like we need to be accepted by. One would assume that we’re more likely to become conscious of someone else mimicking us if we’re not returning it, and perhaps this is partly how we become aware of the fact that someone is a lot more into us than we are into them.
The lack of mimicry is also why we might feel slightly off around someone but be unsure why. Perhaps they’re always speaking more slowly and quietly than everyone else, or they make too much eye contact or stand too closely. We might pick up on those unconsciously but it makes us wonder “what’s their deal?” because they don’t seem to be on the same wavelength as everyone else. Put simply, they’re not mimicking the demeanor of those around them, and this makes them stand out. One may even diagnose such behaviors as a product of social unawareness.
Now, it’s not exactly suggested that you pick up conscious mimicry in an effort to make people like you, but there are probably some people out there working that angle. Or trying to. The thing is, like any other manipulation of communication (like lying), consciously mimicking someone uses extra thought to accomplish. That extra amount of attention being used to mimic someone is taking away from the attention you could be using to authentically listen to what that person is saying. They might feel the good mimicry vibes, but they won’t get much out of the interaction if you don’t seem to be hearing them.
Though, in most cases, people are unaware that they’re doing it.
Even though it’s a little odd, it should be taken as a compliment. It’s just a natural way that we ask that someone accepts our interest.
So, how do we use this social phenomenon to our advantage? It seems, like with most things, it’s best not to force it. Though, becoming aware of this human tendency can help you relate to others, read rooms better, and be more aware if someone’s interest (or lack of interest) in you.
Here’s an example of using light mimicry to your advantage: If you notice an interviewer is sitting casually or laying back, you can mimic this behavior as they are clearly trying to foster a laid-back, inviting environment.
Once you start seeing it, you can’t unsee it, so might as well use it to your advantage. Happy mimicking!
Baaren, Rick Van, Loes Janssen, Tanya L. Chartrand, and Ap Dijksterhuis. “Where Is the Love? The Social Aspects of Mimicry.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. The Royal Society, 27 Aug. 2009. Web. 12 June 2017.