16 November 2009

Building rapport

If you have ever been on a selling, negotiating or coaching course, your tutor will probably have talked to you about mirroring the body language of the person you are speaking to in order to build rapport and create a greater sense of empathy.

While doing this deliberately may seem a little "false", mimicking the actions and expressions of other people is something that we all do anyway to a greater or lesser extent. For example, have you noticed how laughter is infectious? It is not just that everyone "gets the joke"; some people start to laugh before they even know why!

Some neuroscientists suggest that this is due to specialist brain cells they call "mirror neurons" which trigger similar physical traits in ourselves as in the people we are with. Because our physiology can affect our emotional state, these mirror neurons help us get a sense of what other people are feeling.

Although the theory is rather appealing it is not without its critics.  However, regardless of whether mirror neurons exist or not, the fact remains that the mirroring of actions and body shape can help create a similar emotional state than therefore enhance the degree that one person is able to empathise with another.

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