How Do You Let People Know You Are On Their Side?
How do you let people know you are on their side? Simple. Send a few signals of similarity.
The fact is, people send all kinds of signals with their communication. They signal valuable information not just about who they are, but also how they are and why they are the way they are. If you observe any such signals and send back signals of the same kind, people tend to get the signal that you’re with them, not against them. That leads to trust and cooperation, a highly desired outcome in the art of persuasive communication.
Some people talk with their hands, others talk only with their mouths. Some people smile politely with just about everybody, others scowl at anybody, while still others are inscrutable. Some stand to speak, some sit down to speak. Some slouch, some stand straight, some lean against the furniture.
These differences in style can be the source of misinterpretation, hallucination, and misunderstanding.
The person who talks with his hands sees the person who talks only with her mouth as a real stick in the mud. The person who talks only with her mouth sees the person who talks with his hands as out of control. The person who smiles sees the person who scowls as hateful, while the person who scowls sees the person who smiles as phony or goofy.
When people get along with each other, they naturally blend by mirroring each other’s body posture, facial expressions, and degree of animation.
If you’re enjoying a conversation with a friend who is sitting with their legs crossed, after a time you cross your legs in the same manner. If they uncross their legs and lean forward, within moments you respond by doing the same. If they’re smiling, you smile back. If they’re telling you about something that is upsetting to them, you show your concern. If they’re talking with their hands, you respond in kind. It can get to the point where, if they scratch their head, you may suddenly get an itch on your head in the same place. In fact, if you could watch a video of yourself with people you communicate well with, and you could put that video on fast forward, you would see what appears to be an unconscious and automatic game of Simon Says.
For the rest of this day, pay attention to the way people mirror each other’s nonverbal behavior. Watch how you blend with others and how others blend with you. Watch two people from a distance and see how they blend nonverbally. If you see a couple having an argument, watch how there is very little blending and an exaggeration of differences.
Most of the time, nonverbal blending happens automatically and usually goes unnoticed by both parties. Blending or the lack of it can create an atmosphere of trust or distrust, cooperation or non-cooperation between you and other people.
One way to take charge with a person in a poisoned atmosphere is to purposely blend with that person’s body posture, facial expression, and degree of animation. Blending sends the signal that “I’m with you! I’m not the enemy! I’m interested in what you say and do!”
Important: It is not necessary to do so much nonverbal blending that the other person notices and feels like you are mocking them. It is unnecessary to mirror what another person is doing from head to toe. You only want to simulate behavior that would normally occur if the two of you were getting along. In a normal situation, there are time delays before mirroring changes in posture. Sometimes, nonverbal blending is similar but different. Ever meet a foot wiggler? You may not start wiggling your foot, but before you know it you are wiggling your pencil to the same rhythm.
One thing you should never blend with is a hostile gesture directed at you. If someone shakes their fist at you and yells, “I think you’re a jerk!” please don’t shake your fist back at them and start yelling, “Well, I think you’re a jerk too!” That is not blending. The key to blending with aggression is to underplay it assertively, so its similar yet different enough to set an example.
Whenever you successfully communicate with people, you naturally blend with their voice volume and speed. If they talk louder, you talk louder. If they talk faster, then you speed up. Faster talking people enjoy the race, slower talking people enjoy an easy pace.
Quiet people like quiet. Loud people like volume. If you fail to blend with a person’s voice volume and speed, you will probably end up talking to yourself, or dealing with serious misunderstanding.
How can you blend with me? Well, I’m writing on my blog. If you write on my blog, by offering a comment or feedback, I’ll definitely get the signal!
Rick is a best selling author and the founder of the Art of Change Skills for Life. His book titles include, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to bring out the best in people at their worst, Life by Design and Influence and the Art of Persuasion. These days he is spending quality time away from the spotlight enjoying the company of his wife and practicing his electric guitar.