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Mirror, Mirror: Is A Colleague Copying Your Body Language?

You're in a meeting when you notice the business person sitting across from you is doing exactly what you're doing.

This person is sitting like you're sitting, and moving like you're moving. Warning: you're being mirrored, a business influence tactic thought to help seal the deal!

But frankly, all the copying is a bit unsettling as you shift in your seat again, only to have the other person do the same thing a minute later. What should you do when you realize a colleague, or salesperson, is copying your every move and gesture? You feel like you're in the mirror scene from the 1933 Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup, only it's not nearly as funny and amazing as the original.

This topic comes to mind after reading a Sue Shellenbarger article in The Wall Street Journal earlier this week. To sum up the "do"s and "don't"s from the article:

Yeah, sure, go ahead and mimic a business colleague's moves, but only after you've built "a connection." Start by nodding, then tilting, your head before gradually copying their tone of voice, but not exactly. After you've mastered this portion of the mirroring program, move into adopting their movements and gestures, but not exactly. Don't be too obvious about what you're doing, or the other person might catch on and then you'll have an image problem to overcome as someone who is probably faking interest in the conversation, and/or being manipulative.

Sigh. There has to be a better answer to sealing the business deal, and here it is: Just be yourself, because you're already awesome!

In the social media age, we need more authentic people, not fewer. Don't feel obliged to copy another business person's moves because you read it in a book, or article, somewhere. You have your own moves. Have confidence in your own presence instead of adopting somebody else's mannerisms.

Go ahead, be brave and cross your arms while the other person is gesturing wildly, because crossing your arms doesn't have to be a defensive posture if you have a genuine, welcoming expression on your face. So, own it.

Besides, the Where's Waldo generations are far too visually savvy -- thanks to TV, movies, social media and the general Internet -- not to catch on to this mirroring nonsense by the seventh head nod. They're on to you, and if you're lucky, they won't call you out on what they're seeing. Specifically: Why are you doing that? Stop it!

Worse, the occasional working professional could start having too much fun with it. Work days are long, and everyone needs some comic relief! So let's tilt our head and put a finger in one ear while we drum the desk with our other hand. You know, just to see if the other person will take the bait and do the same thing. (OMG, they're doing the same thing!)

So, should you call out another professional who is blatantly mirroring your voice, posture and hand gestures?

You'll have to make that call based on your working relationship and workplace culture, but if you do, just keep it light and simple. You might comment: "It's funny how we both seem to use the same hand gestures and tone of voice. Have you noticed this?" This way, you remain professional, kind and gentle while also letting the other professional know that you're noticing a particular pattern of in-person interaction.

The other person might gradually pull back on the copying, or keep doing it on the assumption that they're making good progress. At this point, it's up to you whether or not to ask with a sly smile: "Are you copying my body language?"


In the end, I think we can all appreciate somebody who comes off as authentic in the age of the edited selfie -- even if we would never personally sit through an entire meeting with our arms clasped behind our heads. Talk about a neck ache! But we'll remember that person because they were comfortable enough in their own skin to do what came naturally to them instead of trying to be a copycat. Just don't pick your nose during the sales pitch, and it's all good.


  1. I catch people doing this. I move my body or arm position to make sure.
    While I'm proud of myself for noticing, I still can't figure out if they are doing this on purpose to manipulate me or if I am wielding great influence over them.

    1. Maybe they see you as the more influential, powerful one in the conversation and are responding accordingly. Having our gestures copied can still feel rather manipulative, however. Good point about having trouble determining the difference!


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