Stuck on the corporate ladder? Climb back up by being a copycat. While the idea of mimicking someone’s behavior to get them to like you isn’t new, a recent German study finds that you don’t need to be so obvious: Simply moving the same body part as the person you’re mimicking is enough.
In the study, researchers asked 126 participants to watch avatars move their arms and legs, and then asked the participants to move a limb of their own—either the same limb as the avatar, or a different limb—in an unrelated manner. Afterward, the participants recorded their feelings toward the avatar. The researchers also conducted a similar trial, instructing participants to make specific arm and leg movements while showing a video of a person moving the same limb in either the same way or totally different ways.
The results: Regardless of the type of action, the person you’re mirroring feels better about you if you just move the same body part.
Credit an increase in something called “sensorimotor fluency,” which is when two people bond through cohesive motion, Rick van Baaren, Ph.D., a social and cultural psychology professor at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, tells MensHealth.com.
Think of it like this: If you shift your body forward in your chair while you boss reaches for a pen, your brain needs two different mental representations to understand and track both behaviors, van Baaren says. But if you gesture with the same arm as he does, “your brain only needs one mental representation, which costs less energy and hence is more fluent.”
While you may mimic others without knowing it, van Baaren says you can also actively use it to your advantage. Here are three rules you must follow to pull off mimicry without seeming like a total creep.
1. Don’t Mimic—Empathize
“People who show that they are naturally sensitive to other people’s inner states are often better liked,” nonverbal communication researcher Spencer Kelly, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Colgate University, tells MensHealth.com. “Mimicry works the best when it is not faked. The timing and scale of it are very important. If it does not come from a true sharing of another’s perspective, feeling or attitude, a person can mimic too quickly, too slowly, or too extremely.” And your boss may assume you’re mocking him.
2. Agree with Your Body Language
Be mindful of what the big guy’s relaying, and react in kind. “If you really share the opinion, attitude, or emotion of another, let your body naturally show it,” says Kelly.
3. Don’t Overanalyze
“All it takes is the detection of just one case of phony mimicry, and the spell is broken,” Kelly says. (That’s not the only way copying someone can backfire. Discover The One Time You Shouldn’t Mimic People.)
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