On Zoom, should you mirror your listener or should they mirror you?

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

Mirroring is the behavior of imitating the posture, gestures and speaking pattern of another person in a conversation. It builds rapport, and it's thought to do so because it makes the one being imitated feel as though the person doing the imitating is similar to them.

Mirroring is a natural subconscious behavior.

Because it's been taught as a persuasion technique, many of us think of mirroring as a solely conscious behavior. We forget that it is already built into our natural design for speaking. Of course, subconscious mirroring doesn't occur to the same degree in all conversations. You are likely to see more mirroring between longtime friends than between, say, a sales professional and a new prospect. In the latter case, it makes sense that the sales professional might consciously cultivate some mirroring to build rapport with a prospect quickly. But there's a problem.

Consciously mirroring disengaging speaking behaviors?

It is all too common to see Zoom-fatigued people exhibiting speaking behaviors that disengage like:

  • a relatively flat voice and face

  • leaning over on the arm of their chair

  • leaning back in their chair

  • angling shoulders away from the screen/webcam

  • looking away at email, a messaging app, etc.

  • and worst of all, not turning on their webcam

It doesn't make sense to mirror your listener in an effort to build rapport when what they are doing erodes it.

Model engaging speaking behaviors.

If you want to quickly build rapport with someone over Zoom, behave in a way that fundamentally engages a listener:

  • Sit up tall squaring your shoulders to the webcam.

  • Speak with an expressive voice and face. Bring energy.

  • Listen with your ears and eyes. Stay focused on them.

Be the conductor of the orchestra. If your listener has not turned on their webcam, politely encourage them to do so. Again, bring energy. You'll find that a sedate listener will often follow your lead and perk up. Once they do, if you want to do a little subtle mirroring, go for it.