In behavioral mirroring, you match behaviors that have symbolic meaning. They are mostly subconscious. In fact, the more subconscious those are, the better they are to mirror. After all, no one can think you’re imitating him or her if you are imitating something they don’t know they’re doing, can they?
But what about being either masculine or feminine with the opposite sex? I mean, aren’t you supposed to be different? Doesn’t the opposite sex expect this? Well, yes and no. Remember, you are not completely giving up your actual personality. You are just adjusting certain things. Did you know that when men talk to women, many tend to use a somewhat higher voice?
Apparently many people already do a certain amount of mirroring, whether they know it or not. It makes sense that we would evolve with some subconscious rapport-building instincts. After all, these abilities have contributed to our ability to survive and to procreate. We know that the brain’s neurons that are in charge of empathy and connecting with other feelings are called mirror neurons. Autistic people have difficulty with rapport building because they have less mirror neurons. Autistic people, who are high-functioning enough to be concerned about rapport-building, have to work extra hard at learning these skills because they are not as good with this kind of sensory acuity on an instinctual level. It has to start out as a much more conscious process.
Getting back to the idea of how we are supposed to be different across genders, consider this. Let’s say a man is talking with a woman. She is a purchaser for a clothing company and the man is a sales rep for a textile mill.
He picks up from her behavior that she has worked her way up, she did not get her job because she was a college graduate with an impressive grade point average. He also sees from her skin tone and her scent that, although she tries to hide it, she smokes. Her accent tells him that she is from a conservative and religious part of the country. She happens to make a couple comments that are a little judgmental about people, comments that tell you she feels that people who are different are that way because they want to be eccentric or difficult, or just irresponsible. This is not someone you admit to that you are taking antidepressants.
The man matches her by displaying the qualities that she obviously respects, and mentioning items of personal history that match what she believes in. For example, if he earned something through hard work, he casually mentions it. If he has a degree, he completely drops the big words and abstract ideas from his speech, except for ideas that he can communicate in a very plain way. She is from the south of the United States, and he knows that there is a literary tradition of commenting on things with dry humor, like Mark Twain did.
He uses his humor in a plain but insightful and a little bit cynical way. His humor is at the expense of the rich, not the poor, and at the expense of marginal people, not regular people. If he is a church going, he drops a comment about his involvement. He may share things about going to visit family with his immediate family members so she knows he values family. Although he uses similar body movements, he does it with the kind of masculine quality that she expects, but in a gentle way that allows her to feel relaxed and connected. While he’s at it, he does the other physical mirroring that we have talked about, such as posture and breathing.