Handle Personality Differences by Mirroring

A potential new client comes into your office and you can already tell you don’t like him. There’s something about the way he stands, the way he talks, his clothes, the scent of cologne wafting through the air. You can’t pin it down. but his very being puts you off. You’re not conceited – you figure he probably thinks exactly the same of you. At the same time, you know he has a big and interesting case, he can pay, and you want to win him over. What can you do?

Your first reaction may well be to differentiate yourself. “I’m not anything like this person”, you say – and you go about making sure you stay true to yourself. You offer something unique, after all, and this potential client will either like you for you, and if not, it was never meant to be.

But put the je ne sais quoi prejudices aside by mirroring the client’s manner of speech and body positioning. Take advantage of similarity bias – people tend to like those who are similar to them. As you sit down with the client you realize he speaks much louder and faster than you. You slightly quicken your pace of speech and raise your voice just enough – your energy level ramps up accordingly. He sits with his hands in front of him to make a church steeple, each fingertip on the one hand touching the other. You realize your hands are hidden under the table and bring them up on the table. Before you know it, the minutes have flown by and you’ve built rapport. You’re not best buddies but you are both comfortable and respect each other.

Mirroring what your client says is helpful too. If your client doesn’t agree with you, start by outlining the client’s position. This gives comfort to the client and reassures the client that you are listening. It also helps builds a shared foundation from which you can make your recommendations.

Mirroring does not require you to change your personality and become someone you are not. You do not need to act and speak exactly like your client – a little effort can go a long way. And refrain from mirroring an angry and yelling client – that will only escalate the matter. If you have a truly difficult client, one that bullies you or that causes you to consider going against your principles, think hard about whether the client is worth keeping.

Mirroring acknowledges that one person’s way of talking and acting in the world is just one way among many. It would be an unhappy circumstance if valuable relationships are never built because of something as shallow as the way one speaks or sits, but it can happen. Eliminate these barriers and use mirroring to help you build a bond with your client.

A client who likes you is more likely to retain you, accept your recommendations, and not sue you. So handle personality differences by mirroring to help eliminate whatever biases stand between you and your client.

– Ian Hu

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