The Chameleon Effect. It’s the sincerest form of flattery.
It’s well-known that our body language influences how other people perceive us.
Striding purposefully into a room to deliver an important presentation gives you an air of confidence that the butterflies in your stomach might possibly belie.
Fortunately, nobody can see the butterflies, just the confident stride.
But what is the evidence that you can use body language to your advantage? If you closely mimic the mannerisms and gestures of someone that you want to get to like you, such as a new client or colleague, will it work?
Displaying a degree of empathy with a potential client can obviously help to bolster a relationship. But is it as simple as copying a hand gesture, a particular way of standing or sitting, or a distinctive nod of the head?
Well, there is evidence to suggest that subtle mimicking of another person’s body language can increase their liking of you. For many years, Bush and Blair were thick as thieves. Or, should I say, enjoyed a ‘special relationship’. They both developed a style of public speaking that was almost identical. It would start with dramatic pauses and simple hand gestures, continue with subtle arm movements, and then often conclude with the invasion of a small country. Coincidence? I think not.
But if you’re still a little sceptical, here’s the proof. Psychologists John Chartrand and Tanya Bargh of New York University carried out a series of experiments to determine whether mimicking another person’s habits really does influence how much they like you. Testing what they called ‘the chameleon effect’, they divided up their sample of guinea pigs into two groups. Each group spent twenty minutes or so chatting to a member of the researcher’s team whom they had never met before. One group of researchers were instructed to subtly mimic the person’s body language such as folding their arms, scratching their nose, tapping the arm rest, waggling their foot – any little nuance that they could mimic without being rumbled. Meanwhile, the researchers in the control group sat quite still throughout their conversation and didn’t attempt to mimic any body language at all.
Afterwards the participants were asked to provide a mark out of ten to indicate how much they liked the person they had been talking to and how well they had got on with each other. The results supported the theory that mimicking a person’s body language does, indeed, increase their liking of you, with the group whose actions were imitated consistently giving higher scores than those whose body language wasn’t mimicked in any way.
Naturally, you should never copy these traits at exactly the same time as the other person is doing them because that would give the game away. They would probably start to shuffle uneasily in their chair. And when you do likewise, they may even begin to sweat a little. And if you can replicate that, you’ll soon find yourself being frog marched off the premises, whilst screaming to the security guards ‘Keep in step, boys’. That would be taking it too far.
So try the ‘chameleon effect’ yourself the next time you meet someone new you want to impress and get to like you. Just be careful not to over do it. Because if they’ve also read this article you may find yourself acting out a bizarre Laurel and Hardy routine.