Sales and Marketing Performance Blog

The Magic of Rapport and Empathy to Connect with Buyers

Posted by Mark Gibson on Sun, Nov 22, 2009

I subscribe to the New Scientist magazine because each week articles are published from the fields of pyschology, neuroscience and behavioral science on the understanding of human behavior.

From these insights we marketers and salespeople can create programs that help us connect products and ideas with audiences and help salespeople connect with buyers.

mirroring peopleA review of Marco Iacoboni’s book “Mirroring People”, in the April 2008 edition led me to the science underlying rapport and empathy. Sales trainers have for some time taught salespeople the value of matching and mirroring in developing rapport, without necessarily understanding how or why it worked.

We now have the scientific proof of the existence and role of mirror neurons in the brain through the work in neuroscience by Iacoboni et al and these insights are very useful in selling and telesales.

The following is an excerpt from our "Selling in the Internet Age" eLearning program on developing rapport and will be of interest to customer-facing professionals, whether in sales, technical support, marketing or PR.

Physiology Mirroring

We know that human beings are hard-wired for rapport and empathy through the work of "The Parma Five", Italian neuroscientists Giacomo Rizzolatti, Marco Iacoboni and others form the University of Parma in Italy, who discovered the existence of mirror neurons in the brain and that humans can detect subtle shifts in emotion in others through their voice, physiology, movement and facial expression.
We also know through the work of Dr. William Condon and others who studied videotapes of conversations frame by frame, that when we are in rapport, we mirror head movements, facial movements such as a smile, involuntarily and automatically and that this occurs within 1/15th of a second. Condon also observed that volume, pitch and speed of the people's voices matched each other within minutes as well as synchronization of breathing and general body posture.
The human face is an incredibly powerful part of ourdrpaulekman physiology in conveying our emotions. We know through Dr. Paul Ekman’s work on facial mapping that if we hold our face certain way we feel a certain emotion.

When we apply the findings of Iacoboni and Rizzolatti et al on mirroring we know that when see an expression of strong emotion on another persons face, we can "know how they feel" without having to make the face ourselves. This feeling is known as empathy and it is perfectly natural (except for those people with a type autism and are unable to experience emotion) if we allow ourselves to experience it. There is now scientific proof in the old sales adage "smile when you pick up the phone", it conveys warmth and that emotion is transmitted to the receiver.
To get rapport started initially in a face-face meeting focus on mirroring posture, head position, facial expression and energy level (breathing)….as well as matching the buyers volume, speed, tonality and voice patterns. When you are mirroring another person, wait for 2-3 seconds to mirror a physiology movement in the other person, remember it must be are just accelerating the process.

Rapport can be developed initially through mirroring and then through finding things in common with the other person. For this reason we suggest investing time in discussing non-business topics to explore common interests and background to create rapport opportunities prior to diving in to the business conversation.

The key take-away is that rapport is perfectly natural and develops unconsciously and automatically and as sellers, we need to be relaxed, but focused in front of buyers…if we focus on the buyer…not what we want to say next and go with the flow, rapport will develop automatically.

Warning, you’ve got to be subtle, mirroring must happen outside the buyers conscious awareness….this is not a version of the children's game of “Simon Says” and if the buyer picks up on it, then stop doing it.
By becoming aware of how others use their voice, language and physiology in communication will allow us to become much better communicators.
Follow this link to view this PBS Nova video program on the neuroscience of mirroring and an interview with Dr. Marco Iacoboni.

(the right image of Dr. Ekman is the real smile, note carefully the bags formed under the eyes and the more distinct cheek bulge)

Topics: book review, communication

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