“99.9% of all decisions are shaped by others. It’s hard to find a decision or behavior that isn’t affected by other people,” Jonah Berger, who spent over 15 years studying the science of social influence as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, explained in his book Invisible Influence.
In fact, there is only one place we don’t seem to see social influence – ourselves. People can see social influence affecting others’ behavior, but not their own.
Why we conform?
There are 3 main reasons:
- Using others as an information source saves us time and effort (e.g., checking reviews of the books, hotels, etc. before we make a decision)
- We want to be accepted, to be part of something (e.g., we skip dessert at lunch just like everyone else)
- A tendency to imitate, mimicry
We are constantly and automatically imitating the actions of those around us. We tend to do as others around us do, for example, which brand to buy or which career path to pursue. We tend to mimic also the emotional expression of those around us.
All these imitations happen unconsciously. People automatically mimic others based on the firing of the “mirror neurons” in a premotor cortex, part of the brain involved in planning and initiating movement.
Berger writes that “Watching someone else in an action activates the same cortical region as engaging in that action…. Others can thus prime us for action. Observing others do something can activate our mind in ways that make it easier for us to do the same thing.”
Thus, it is entirely reasonable why we are the average of the 5 people that we spend the most time with as motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said – we mimic those people and learn from them.
Be conscious with whom you spend your time and how they influence your life. Do these people increase your energy, motivate you, make you more happy or successful?
By understanding why people imitate, we can learn to be less influenced by others (especially when this influence can hold us back) and rather learn to influence other people.
How can you use behavioral mimicry to increase your success?
Are you trying to get a new client or expand your business with an existing client?
People who mimicked their negotiation partner were five times as likely to have a successful outcome.
One study has found that a waitress at a restaurant increased her tips by 70% simply by mimicking the verbal behavior of customers by repeating their orders word for word.
Studies have also shown that mimicry increases our liking for other people and makes us feel closer to others. Interpersonal trust mediated the relationship between mimicry and deal-making.
Thus, mimickers created more value and claimed most of that additional value for themselves.
When you have your next meeting or job interview, use strategic behavior mimicry to facilitate the outcome of your negotiation.
Mimic the verbal and nonverbal behavior of your negotiation partner, such as:
- speech (words, a tone of voice)
- facial expressions
Imitating the language, behavior, facial expressions of your negotiation partner eases interaction – if your business partner crosses their legs or touches their hair, do the same.
The occurrence of this unconscious mimicry is described by researchers as the ‘‘chameleon effect.’’ Like a chameleon our appearance changes to match the environment.
Use personal image mimicry in your business
Image mimicry can play an essential role as part of behavior mimicry in order to increase your personal impact by using the following tips.
#1 BE AN IMAGE CHAMELEON
Fit your environment to your personal image.
As you plan your meetings, breakfast events, lunches, evening drinks, and other events with clients, part of the plan should also be your image for that event.
I’m not talking about grabbing the business attire you have in your closet best suited for a meeting to align with your company’s dress code requirements. Far from it.
I’m happy that dress codes have been largely been abolished by companies in recent years as they no longer fit today’s business environment, even in more conservative businesses like banking, law, and accounting. I wrote about this topic in my Woman’s guide to creating a business casual wardrobe.
When you meet your new client, and you research their business, use this information to plan your own image. If the potential client comes from the IT industry, it is not appropriate to wear formal clothes, as you might appear overdressed. It’s not just that you may not increase the level of trust and affiliation with your client, they might think you don’t understand them and their business.
Think of what your clients expect, but also how they are dressed. You should not be more casually dressed than them, but you also should not be too overdressed as it will impact engagement. Slightly more formal than them is ideal.
It’s really important to consider how to increase approachability with your client.
One of the effective ways is to become an “image chameleon.”
Think of how your clients are dressed and match this with your image to influence your professional success.
By mimicking someone’s appearance, we are saying that we like their identity and want to be similar and close to them. It also increases likeability and trust.
Take into consideration which colors you wear:
- Earth tone colors (neutrals) like white, ivory, beige, and camel are sophisticated. They are associated with trustworthy, warm, friendly, and approachable personality traits.
- On the other hand, dark colors like gray, black, navy are viewed as expressing power and control. They project authority instead of approachability.
Additionally, a less contrasted image, such as a monochromatic outfit, increases approachability while higher contrast like a white shirt and black suit communicates authority.
Make sure that after the meeting or event, you are remembered for the right things, as a negative personal image is not a good memory to leave someone with.
#2 BE SEEN
As you are building a relationship with clients, schedule meetings, invite them often to lunches, dinners, and coffees.
Familiarity leads to liking – the more we see something, the more we like it.
“If you have seen something before it is easier for your brain to process. The mind doesn’t have to do as much work to figure out what it is, and this reduced effort generates a positive feeling that we interpret as familiarity” Berger writes.
If the client has seen you, your appearance and style often, the more they will like you.
For example, imagine you see some trendy sunglasses in the shop. At first glance, you think they’re ugly and you’d never wear them. After a while, (and you’re not even aware of it) you start to like them as you see more and more people wearing them
Use this principle to increase your influence – call the client and schedule your next meeting.
Berger continues that “how concentrated the interactions are also matters…The more time there is between interactions, the more novel the experience seems, and the more we like it.”
If we have too much exposure to the same thing, we start to get bored.
Make the experience different each time – invite the client to different locations, discuss various topics and look different each time you see them. Change your outfit to correspond to the occasion but still mimic the image of the client.
#3 BE YOURSELF
Don’t become a style chameleon and stranger to yourself.
It is important to understand an upcoming event or meeting, the environment, your client’s business, and your client him/herself and consider what facet of your personal image would be appropriate.
Never use mimicry as a coping mechanism for your personal style.
Stay true to yourself.
In every situation, our highest level of success and performance is achieved when we are our real selves.
Our personal style requires being who we are.
Style is your self-expression.
Style is how you communicate to the world.
Style has a lot to do with confidence.
Our style is about how we feel and how we look.
The first step is feeling. Wearing certain clothes makes us feel more motivated, empowered and confident.
Dr. Samantha Boardman is a medical professional who understands the chemical connections between looking awesome and really feeling awesome. She believes that building on the things that make you feel good is the key to success.
Dr. Boardman writes that “The right outfit may even enhance creativity, focus, and negotiation skills. Related research highlights how getting dressed up promotes abstract thinking and provides perspective. Yes, a power suit can be literally empowering.”
When you need an additional boost, choose the right outfit.
Don’t try to mimic your clients’ style to fit in and change who you are. Instead, emulate their image by dressing up in any similar clothes or accessories.
When you stay true to who you are, you are the best and most influential version of yourself.
Which things from this post are you going to add to your day? Let me know in the comments below!