Negotiation and “mimicry” – the academics get involved

We promised to come back to the NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) and negotiation debate given the last post on the topic got our record number of comments. We’ll look at those comments later this week, but first, here’s another interesting addition to the debate.

My daughter graduated a few months ago with her Psychology degree, so we have a number of relevant sites on the “Bookmarks” list on our browser. That’s why my wife spotted this article from the British Psychological Society Research Digest

It describes an experiment to establish how people feel about “mirroring” behaviour, which is one of the aspects often considered within the NLP.  Mirroring is where you mimic the behaviour of the person you’re interacting with – cross your legs when they do, smile when they do etc.  There is evidence that being mimicked, as long as it's not too obvious, generally leaves  us in a better mood and more likely to be helpful to others.

But this experiment (which had a pretty complex design - we won’t go through it here but it is all explained in the article) tested how people felt about mirroring, with the sample split between those who had been first ‘conditioned’ through showing them currency signs and those who were not treated in that way.

And that changed completely how the subjects felt about mirroring – those who had been reminded about money were negative about the mirroring and felt more threatened by the other party doing the mirroring.

"Being mimicked typically leaves people with positive feelings," the researchers concluded, "but this experiment showed that mimicry can diminish liking of the mimicker if people have been reminded of money... The findings take the psychology of money in a new direction," they added, "by demonstrating money's ability to stimulate a longing for freedom."

As the report says,

Jia Liu and her colleagues have thrown a spanner in the works. They've demonstrated that reminders of money reverse the benefits of mimicry - leading mimics to be liked less, and the mimicked to feel threatened. It all has to do with the selfish, egocentric mindset triggered by money. And in that context, the researchers say, being mimicked is uncomfortable because it gives people the sense that "their autonomy is being threatened."

If this is accurate, then it certainly calls into question some aspects of NLP in the negotiation context. I suspect some more scientific work is needed to replicate this effect and verify the hypothesis more strongly, but anyone interested in NLP and negotiation might want to keep an eye on this field of psychological research.

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First Voice

  1. Andreas:

    You have mentioned some very good points here. Allow me to add on. The thing is that there is a difference between mimicking and mirroring/ matching as it is taught in NLP. Mimicking as I understand it from your article means that you copy the body behaviour of the person immediately. One is crossing the arms and you follow. But understand that mimicking is wrong, in the face and makes peopl feel uncomfortable, even if they don’t talk about money. I teach my students of NLP to follow the behaviour of the other person but not immediately, but in a timelapse of 30 seconds or so. This becomes much more natural. More importantly than matching body language is matching the thinking style of the other party, realising what is important to them and matching that.

    And all in all – matching and mirroring is only important in the initial stages. After that and when rapport has been build, a conversation/ negotiation is a dance of mutual harmony.

    There are more factors for an important negotiation and you mentioned some in your earlier article. Allow me to share: 1.) The importance of your intention for a conversation. What do you intend to achieve? 2.) Do you really like to work and negotiate with the other person? 3.) Are you prepared for the negotiation. 4.) Are you going for a win-win situation.

    If all of this is clear, than you don’t need to match and mirror. It would then be like talking to a friend anyway.

    Just a few thoughts and I could add on so much more. 🙂

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