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In the challenging world of salesmanship, nonverbal communication is nearly as important, if not more so, than a well-polished verbal pitch. An expansive knowledge of communication is the key, and the door it unlocks leads to increased sales, which leads to more money. One key aspect of nonverbal communication, body language, provides subtle, but valuable cues as to what to do or say next.

Body language is a two-way street. A successful salesman learns not only to read the body language of his prospects, but to use his own body language to guide the tone and direction of the potential sale. One tool which is particularly useful here is a technique known as mirroring.

A manner of synchronizing your postures and actions with someone else, mirroring builds rapport between two people by causing them to feel as though they are on the same wavelength. The process is fairly simple. Say you’re in a lunch meeting with a prospect. You lay out your objectives and ask politely if he has any questions. He leans across the table, his brow wrinkled in consternation, and lowers his voice as he expresses a few of his concerns.

Of course, the natural response to this is to mirror his behavior. Leaning closer is an invitation into his personal space and indicates a desire to confide in you. So you follow suit, leaning closer, an ear bent to listen in acceptance of your client’s invitation. Also notice, he has lowered his voice. This could be taken to mean that he is confiding something private, perhaps regarding his personal finances, that he does not want to announce loudly to the entire café. Lowering your voice in turn demonstrates a respect for his wishes not to be overheard. Also, here it doesn’t hurt to wrinkle your brow a bit. Your customer’s concerns are your concerns, and you want to let him know that in every way you possibly can.

However, it is important to bear in mind that mirroring, while a highly useful tool, has certain limits to its application. Mirroring positive nonverbal signals sends a subconscious message: “You can trust me. I’m like you.” This kind of message can do more to increase a prospect’s comfort level than any amount of verbal schmoozing. In fact, sucking up with words is often a big turnoff in a fledgling business relationship.

For precisely this reason it is of utmost importance that you mirror only positive signs. Let’s return to the previous example. Your customer is leaning closer, confiding in you, expressing concerns. To you, these concerns may be simply another road-block to overcome in securing a sale. To him, they are a line of defense, insurance against purchasing a product or service which isn’t exactly right for his needs. 

You may notice that as he leans closer he is frowning. I can’t emphasize this enough…DO NOT mirror this signal. A frown is one of the most negative possible nonverbal signs anyone can give. Your customer’s frown represents his doubt, and doubt is something you cannot afford to encourage. If he sees a frown he may subconsciously interpret it to mean YOU lack confidence in YOUR ability to meet his needs. I don’t think I need to explain the impact that message will have.
Instead, here is a place for an equal and opposite reaction. We’ll call it ‘inverse mirroring.’ Here’s what you do. Pause and listen, lips neutral. Don’t frown, but instead, listen intently, and when he finishes expressing his concerns, flash him a look of confidence, while you explain his cares away. The pause is important here. Don’t offer a broad cheesy grin in his face while he’s in doubt he will probably feel that you are mocking him and become even more defensive.

Regardless of whether you can think of an appropriate ‘inverse’ signal, it is crucial that you irror a negative one just long enough to build rapport and then lead the conversant into a better frame of mind. If you’re not sure what constitutes a negative signal, here are a few examples: Crossing one’s arms, a defensive posture, can also mean that one is cold or perhaps feeling self-conscious about his paunch. The most obvious, and most irresistible negative sign is aversion to eye contact. When someone looks away from us, it is a natural reaction to do the same. Instead of looking away, it is far better to focus on your prospects face. Eye contact is contagious.

Keep these tips in mind at your next sales appointment and see if you can’t get results. Mirror your prospects positive body language and use ‘inverse mirroring’ to soothe away those negative signals. It may take a little practice, but this technique will ultimately add one more highly effective weapon to your salesmanship arsenal.


Inverse Mirroring 

Tonya Reiman

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