“Who is the fairest in the land?” asks the Evil Queen. “My Queen, you are the fairest in the land,” replies the Magic Mirror. And so, the Evil Queen was pleased, because the mirror never lies.
The mirror never lies. For many years, this was the comfort the Evil Queen took in the Magic Mirror. In addition to showing her, it told her what she wanted to hear, it comforted her. Of course, once Snow White came along, the Magic Mirror’s reply changed, “My Queen, you are the fairest here so true. But Snow White is a thousand times more beautiful than you.” After that, the Queen got really evil. The mirror never lies.
Fortunately, our mirrors don’t have omniscient abilities, but they can provide a comfort—self-affirming confidence that we look good and not disheveled. We want to look our best, and when the mirror confirms that for us, we take comfort in knowing the vision we have of ourselves aligns with what we’re showing the world.
It’s no surprise then that mirroring has become a popular negotiating technique to manipulate the subconscious bias of your negotiating counterpart. Mirroring is taught as a way to make the person on the other side of the deal feel more comfortable. Imitating or mirroring what the other party does is meant to create implicit approval, to make them like you, and then hopefully let their guard down. If the other person leans back, you lean back. If the other person crosses her legs, then you cross the leg on the same side. If you’re with a person who leans towards you, then you lean toward them. It’s a moderately more sophisticated game of copycat.
Like most of these tactics, any good negotiator will identify what you’re doing and either employ their own counter tactic, or call you out and cause you to lose credibility. For me, the frustrating thing about mirroring is that it takes authentic and honest human behavior and turns it into a manipulative gambit.
When you genuinely listen to and connect to your negotiating counterpart or conversation partner, mirroring is a natural by-product. That’s a productive exchange that can create real trust during a negotiation. As soon as we begin to teach this as a tactic, instead of mirroring just coming from an authentic place of presence and interest, everything becomes shaded by inauthenticity.
We can spot fakes. It’s hardwired into our survival instincts. The fact that mirroring is a naturally occurring behavior makes the practice of it as a tactic that much more precarious. We know what the real thing looks like. When you’re thinking about every move, and being reactionary in your movements, you’ll expose yourself and your tactics before long, even to the negotiating novice.
The fact is, there’s nothing that’s going to garner a more positive response from your counterpart and help you achieve your objectives more than authenticity. Instead of making insane attempts to anticipate and mirror the actual body movements of the other party, focus on yourself and attaining a state of CDE—Clarity, Detachment, and Equilibrium.
Tricks and tactics can be exploited and defeated, and a tactic like mirroring—embarrassingly so. CDE is something internal that you own. It can’t be exploited unless you let it. Working together, the pillars of CDE will keep your objectives at the forefront of negotiations and create a dynamic at the table that keeps you in control.
If you’re ready to abandon tactics like mirroring and become a self-possessed authentic negotiator, my Authentic Negotiating Success Quiz is where you should start.