Do you ever notice that when you’re with your friends or family that you change the way you speak? You might have a shared language or gestures that you only break out around them. You end up matching the patterns of the people you’re around, and it puts everyone at ease.

A few weekends ago I was taking the subway. While waiting for the subway at Columbus Circle I saw an elderly German couple fumbling with a map. They seemed confused so I walked up to them and asked if I could help. The woman smiled and asked, in broken English, how best to get to Brooklyn. Without thinking about it I started giving her directions – mimicking her broken English vocabulary. As we were talking my speech began matching theirs more closely. They started smiling, and were put at ease. Something as simple as a shared vocabulary helped them to trust me directions.

After spending a few years living abroad you get pretty good at speaking in broken English and communicating without saying much.

This phenomenon is known as mirroring. It is common in everyday conversation. If the person you’re speaking with smiles you’ll probably match their expression. This subconscious act helps you to empathize with the person speaking and gain their trust. The fact that you have a shared emotion will put them at ease and allow them to open up more to you.

After all, people like us do stuff like this

Sean

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