Mirroring to Build Trust & Control Difficult Situations

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Tips to help diffuse any conversation!

Today I’m focusing on a technique to help you quickly build trust and deal with difficult conversations. And if you’re ever needed to help out with a police negotiation situation…well you’ll be ready for that, too 😉

The technique I’m talking about is mirroring. And to help me out, I’m going to be drawing from the must-read book by Chriss Voss, Never Split The Difference.  

If you’re not familiar with Chris, let me give you the download.

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Top FBI hostage negotiator. Left the FBI, started his own consulting firm, and now trains Fortune 500 companies on the tools and techniques he learned while at the bureau. 

The book is riveting. And loaded with great insights for the business world. One of the techniques Voss covers is mirroring. 

So, get comfy, cuz we’re going deep. 

What is mirroring? 

Mirroring is a long-standing biological principle that works like this: We fear what’s different. And we are drawn to what’s similar. 

In other words, mirroring signals to others, “Hey, you and me, we’re alike. You can trust me.” 

This tool is extremely successful and can take a number of different aspects. 

  • You can mirror body language.
  • You can mirror the tone of voice 
  • Or you can mirror it by repeating the same words

Let’s take that last one and talk about the waiter experiment. 

Psychologist Richard Wiseman wanted to learn what was more effective mirroring or positive reinforcement. After all, both are similar and both can lead to a positive outcome. At least on the surface.  

So, Wiseman pulled together two sets of waiters. One group would be the positive reinforcers. They would use words like “great,” “no problem,” and “sure” in response to each order. 

The other group – those using mirroring – would simply repeat their orders back to the customer. So, for example, if I ordered steak and fries. The waiter would say, “Steak and fries.” 

Wanna guess which technique won? 

Those using the mirroring killed it. 

The average tip of the waiters who mirrored was 70 percent more than the positive reinforcers! 

That’s significant! And it proves mirroring works. 

But there are a couple of things you need to get right with mirroring. So let’s unpack it a bit more.

Mirroring can be effective, sure…but only when done correctly. 

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There Are THREE Things You Need To Keep In Mind While Using This Technique.

Thing #1: The first is to be genuine. Look, most of the clients you work with or will work with are sophisticated. They are going to pick up when you’re mirroring for the sake of getting on their good side. 

So go slow.  And be real. 

Thing #2: Give some pause between repeating the last few lines. Voss recommends at least four seconds before repeating the last few lines. 

Waiting is the hardest part. Tom Petty taught us that. But you need to be patient. Let the other person fill in the void. That’s when you will get the most insights. 

Thing #3: Use a calm voice. An angry or agitated voice is just going to create friction with the person you’re talking to. 

Mirroring For Difficult Conversations

As Voss points out mirroring not only works to help build rapport. It can also help with difficult conversations. Here’s an example from the book. 

One of Voss’ students had to deal with an impulsive boss. The type that would swing by and drop a poorly thought-out assignment that typically created a lot of busy work. On top of all that, the work had to be done his way. 

As the story goes it was the end of a long consulting engagement.  Thousands of documents had been generated.  

Then the boss shows up at Voss’ student’s workspace.  Unannounced.  

“Let’s make two copies of all the paperwork,” the boss said. He was old school. Everything had to be printed out. 

“I’m sorry, two copies?” she said in an inquisitive tone, but kept calm. FM DJ voice. 

“Yes,” the boss responded, “one for us and one for the customer.”

“I’m sorry, so you’re saying that the client is asking for a copy and we need a copy for internal use?”

“Actually, I’ll check with the client—they haven’t asked for anything,” he replied.  “But I definitely want a copy.  That’s just how I do business.”

“Absolutely,” she responded.  “Thanks for checking with the customer.  Where would you like to store the in-house copy?  There’s no more space in the file room here.”

“It’s fine.  You can store it anywhere,” he said, slightly perturbed now.


“As a matter of fact, you can put them in my office,” he said. “I’ll get the new assistant to print it for me.  For now, just create two digital backups.” 

A day later the boss sent an email not needing the paper printouts at all. “The two digital backups will be fine.” 

And just by mirroring a week of unproductive work had been avoided!

Here’s The Wrap 

Mirroring is a technique that can be used to help build trust and establish rapport. And there are many ways to do mirroring. Body language, speech patterns, and simply repeating words. 

The key is to stay genuine. Pause. And use a calm voice. 

Next time you meet someone new. Or have to talk to your boss or maybe even an upset client, remember to mirror. 

That’s all for this week. I’ll see y’all back here next time for more great marketing and sales insights. 


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