We’re All a Bunch of Copy Cats

by | Mar 11, 2015

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” -Jim Rohn

I’m sure you’ve heard some variation of this quote, most likely from a parent who didn’t like the crowd you were hanging around with after school, but think about it in terms of work. A recent Duke University Study explains that humans have a legitimate psychological tendency to mimic one another.

Take a moment to consider the way you talk to your boss, your best friend, your neighbor, and your favorite college professor. Power structure aside, I’m willing to bet that the way you talk to each of them in some way reflects the way they talk to you.

Here’s an example I’m sure we can all relate to. You hang up from the best call you’ve had in weeks and someone in your office is staring at you. They have something really clever to say like “was that a prospect or your uncle?” Well, from now on you can tell that person that as a member of the human race, we are scientifically inclined to adopt the accents, speech habits, and even sentence length from the person with whom we are engaged in a conversation. And you know what else? It works. Think of the best natural rapport builder you know.

The best one I know sits directly across from me so this week, I’ve been listening in a little more intently. On some calls he leans back in his chair and laughs along about NY sports in his (usually well hidden) Jersey accent. Just minutes later, I glance up to see him with much improved posture, speaking in longer sentences in a much more serious tone. Both calls had the same outcome, so why the difference in approach? Nonconscious mimicry–or in layman’s terms, he was speaking to two very different people with different personalities, speech habits, and diction, so without even thinking about it, he copied them.

He was subconsciously aware of the cues being given to him, and in adopting those traits, the person on the other end immediately felt more comfortable and inclined to stay on the phone. Unfortunately, we are not all so blessed with this sales superpower.

So, what does that mean for the rest of us? Quite a few things actually.

  1. Try a little harder to take note of not only what someone says, but how they say it. Tune in to these clues and allow yourself to get a little lost in your conversations. It is in your nature and it will make both you and your prospects feel more at ease and more willing to engage.
  2. It’s not just about what others are doing, you’re contagious too, so smile! Studies show that “talking happy” on the phone makes potential buyers more inclined to listen to you, and once they are engaged, they will mimic your tone. Nothing makes me lose interest faster than a salesperson with bad energy.
  3. When evaluating a new-hire, think like a preschool teacher, what kind of comments do you think they’ll get: “plays well with others” or “often disruptive in class”? If we inherently mimic one another, why not fill the office with people you don’t mind your other employees mimicking?

In sales, and in business in general, we are constantly attempting to engage with lots of different people. Someone who excels at this is often referred to as a “good people person,” but in light of this research, they may just be an excellent copy cat.

By Domenic Fichera

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