Mirroring Techniques in Mentoring: Role Models and The Role They Play

We explore how mirroring techniques can build rapport and relationships. Written by Letícia Miranda.

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People have always imitated each other. Be they anonymous or famous individuals. Imitation, after all, is said to be the biggest form of flattery. Yes, mimicry plays an important part in our development. Being aware and wary of it is important. In this article, we’ll explore how mirroring others in mentoring can be a great way of developing mentoring relationships in most cases - but not always.

The reality is, a lot of us will look for good references, a great example to be followed and people who inspire and strengthen us. One common interview question asks people who their greatest inspiration is. With mentoring, inspiration often comes into consideration.

The presence of a mentor can open you up to opportunities that you may not yet have explored. A big part of mentoring is exploration and reflection. It is human nature for us to mirror those around us and some say that we become the average of the five people we surround ourselves with most. If you want to become a doctor, you will probably surround yourself with others in the medical profession. If you want to pursue a singing career, you will probably seek out other musicians and entertainers. It’s recommended that you do.

Seeking out examples of individuals that we admire is important for our life’s trajectory. It adds to our ideas, behaviours and attitudes.

Mirroring is the act of copying the behaviours of a certain person or group of people, both physically and mentally. It is a person's ability to mirror, either several or just one aspect of the other person's behaviour. It could be their response to a situation or circumstance. It could be the way an individual leads and conveys authority or resilience. Gradually, this builds over time and is often built subconsciously. This often happens in a coaching session, when the coach mirrors their coachee and between them a connection is established.

To a certain extent, mirroring is something that people do automatically when they are in the presence of others that they feel comfortable with. Have you ever noticed yourself pick up mannerisms of family members, relatives or colleagues you spend a lot of time with? This is subconscious mirroring. Learning to mirror deliberately and proactively can improve communication with others though.

In mentoring meetings, mirroring of physical attributes can actually help the mentor and mentee to build a stronger and more trusting bond. Equally, in business meetings you may at times notice that everyone sat around the room is mirroring hand gestures, such as folded arms – if everyone is ‘in sync’ this can happen without anyone even realising it but it’s often a good sign. Next time you fold your arms or cross your legs in the presence of others, see whether anyone else copies you within the few minutes thereafter.

Mirroring Techniques – Where, How and Why

There are lots of benefits to learning and adopting conscious mirroring techniques. They can help you to form a closer bond or connection with colleagues, clients, mentors and coaches.

One such example where mirroring techniques come into play is through salespeople using it to close deals. Mirroring techniques helping to build the bond can build trust, reliance and rapport. That being said, mirroring should always be authentic and genuine. If someone mirrors it too quickly or too well, be alert to this. They may be doing this because they have read about it, in the form of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and are trying to build a relationship without sincerity. If someone is using mirroring naturally, they are unlikely to even notice what is going on. And neither are you!

Neuroscientists have found that some regions of the brain, activated when a person is in pain, also respond in a similar way when that person imagines someone else in the same pain. They believe that a similar process occurs when someone is satisfied with a friend's good fortune or enjoys their company.

Mirroring shows that imitation is more than the sincerest form of flattery - it is a powerful way to establish and strengthen rapport. However, and this is a big caveat, this has to be done with total sincerity. Try to be aware of mirroring with the people you are in close contact with - your boss, your spouse or partner, your friends, your mentors or mentees, and your colleagues. You can assess whether a new relationship develops between you as a result of mirroring. Do this often and it will become automatic - and people will warm to you more, creating stronger, genuine, authentic interpersonal relationships.

The mirroring process, when done with integrity and respect, generates positive feelings and reactions in those who practice it. It will enable you to gain the best in each person you mentor or are mentored by. It is good to be aware of it.
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