Building Rapport When Negotiating

Building rapport is about getting a bond with your negotiation partner. The nonverbal language we use to communicate is vital to how we relate to each other. For most, it's done by instinct. But even instincts can be honed and perfected. Mimicking (also known as mirroring or matching) is a tried and true method of building rapport quickly. You probably already do it and aren’t even aware. There is always room, though, to take it up a notch. These tips will help.

Understand Mimicking

There’s a game that is often played in high school drama classes across the country and was made famous in the hit movie "Fame" (1980), called the "Mirror Game". Participants stand facing each other, one is the "person", the other the "mirror". The "person" completes a series of random movements and the "mirror" tries to mimic as close to perfectly as possible. Mimicking in negotiation is very similar to this, but should not be as obvious. The game is a good way to learn how to make mimicking appear and feel more natural.

When you're negotiating, you will mimick the person you are trying to persuade. The art of persuasion in and of itself is a beautiful thing and mimicking is like an intricate dance. You quietly observe the other person and mimic their stance, the way they hold their head, even the pitch of their voice. The point is to appear relaxed while "looking like them".

Why Mimic?

People are more comfortable and receptive to others who are like them. This likeness can come in the form of skin color, build, gender, mannerisms or a plethora of other details. The best practices, however, is to mimic as many traits as possible. The trick, though, is to appear natural while doing it. When it's natural, it will help you with building rapport quickly!

While you can’t change your skin color, build or gender, you can control your mannerisms, the inflection in your voice, your vocabulary and your general body language. And often, that is enough.

Points of Mimicking

When you begin your negotiations, quietly observe the other person and make mental notes regarding:

  • How they hold their head – Is the chin dropped or high? Is the head tilted to one side?
  • Facial expressions – Are they making fairly constant eye contact? How are they holding thier mouth (smile, tense in the corners or jaw indicating stress, fleeting smile indicating uncertainty or nervousness)?
  • Body – Are they standing square to you, shoulders high and straight? Are they relaxed with one foot slightly in front of the other and a slight slouch?
  • Gestures - Do they gesture a lot? Do the not gesture at all? What types of gestures do they make?
  • Energy – Are they leaning in toward you (which shows energy)? Are they sitting back or reclining (shows they are relaxed)?

As you note these different positions and details, try to mimic them. If they use minimial gestures, you use minimal gestures. Mimic the way they stand or sit, the way they hold their head and any other details that you pick up. Soon, you will find that in the negotiating game you have the upper hand.

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