effective communication

Bo Parfet on Effective Interpersonal Communication and Linguistic Mirroring

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After a career taking me from Wall Street to the world of social entrepreneurship, I can say with confidence that it is unrealistic to assume the possibility of immediately understanding the point of view of every professional one meets.

Given that there is always a learning curve in understanding the perspective of a new connection, I recommend that taking the time to develop the skills needed to build interpersonal relationships with diverse professionals and personalities.

Effective Interpersonal Communication and Linguistic Mirroring

Those who implement techniques such as linguistic mirroring know how to navigate peers who are evaluating their performance. Using linguistic mirroring offers an opportunity to cater to speech, and the culture of professionalism it shapes, based on an evaluator’s preferred work style.

I recommend the practice to anyone looking to improve professional outcomes, as I myself have seen over the course of my career, let alone that of others.

According to the Administrative Science Quarterly, linguistic mirroring refers to how “preexisting relationships give people greater insight into how their evaluators think, reason, interpret, and process evidence.”

When professionals consider how their peers receive information and tailor their delivery keeping that top-of-mind, they are practicing linguistic mirroring.

It is a communication tactic that allows the implementer to meet co-workers or partners at their level. By “speaking their language,” those who linguistically mirror their peers demonstrate a sincere understanding of, and concern for, how their peers think. The result is improved outcomes and the achievement of desired goals for those who practice linguistic mirroring in professional contexts.

Linguistic Mirroring

Research suggests that linguistic mirroring is a useful tool for professionals looking to sharpen the communication of their sincere conviction, such as when recruiting a new client or litigating a case before a judge. In a study that examined patent infringement lawsuits, the Harvard Business Review found that lawyers who used linguistic mirroring with judges won a more significant number of cases. Why? Linguistic mirroring gives the “evaluator,” with whom the implementer communicates, the ability to understand the implementer’s points without altering how the evaluator thinks.

The results of the study indicate the success of linguistic mirroring in patent infringement lawsuits. From this study, one can interpret how lawyers who had pre-existing relationships with judges yielded better outcomes.

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For example, lawyers who had pre-existing relationships with judges knew how to format arguments in a manner that typically moved and persuaded the judges. Knowing whether the judges preferred data-driven evidence versus a narrative-centered argument helped guide the lawyers when crafting their cases.

linguistic mirroring

Although applying linguistic mirroring is efficient, I believe that it is not enough on its own to guarantee an adequate understanding of different points of view in a professional context. Professionals should be aware of the vital factors on which to focus if relying on the value of linguistic mirroring as often as possible.

If one ignores how an evaluator tends to communicate, it will be a struggle to influence how said evaluator thinks. Take note of how they reason with others; do they rely on facts, data, or emotions? When they collaborate with others, what kind of skills and software do they use?

Incorporating their preferred reasoning details into one’s own approach to communication will not only amplify the impact of one’s linguistic mirroring but also make one’s influence more robust and foolproof.

Note that linguistic mirroring will not convince an evaluator if it is not genuine. Authenticity is required to make influence count. When building a team for a specific project, one needs to consider the tradeoffs between social and human capital.

Given that building genuine relationships is the full guarantee of linguistic mirroring’s conviction, we must understand that authentic connections do not form overnight. These cordial dynamics of rapport can sometimes take years to build.

One should be realistic with one’s self, and with one’s team about whether linguistic mirroring in interpersonal communication is possible before sacrificing the organization’s top human capital for a specific project.


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