When I was in college, I waited tables to have money for my “essentials.” I loved the work because I could talk with so many different types of people, I was part of a (really fun) team, and I made good money. Looking back I realize that one of the reasons I was a successful waitress was because I can quickly read people and connect with them in a way that makes them comfortable.
Jerry Green, the General Manager of Rio Grande Café, and Robert Rivera, the floor manager, used to call me a chameleon. They used to watch me on the floor, puzzling over my ability to instantly shift my demeanor from serious to silly, converse with the quietest of customers, and become friendly with everyone in my section. I even got my first “real job” offer from one of my Rio Grande customers. Given my unique ability to connect with the customer, it came as no surprise when the managers asked me to personally serve George W. Bush and his secret service team, Linda Carter (AKA Wonder Woman), Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, and the Redskins when they visited our restaurant.
I didn’t know it back then, but I was practicing a technique known as Mimicking. Dan Pink discusses the practice in his book, To Sell is Human. Mimicking is the art of becoming attuned to your conversation partner’s tone, body language, and vocabulary to build trust.
“Negotiators who mimicked their opponents’ mannerisms were more likely to create a deal that benefited both parties.”
– Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
When I coach clients, a key aspect we often focus on is finding their voice. Once we define what they want and what they need (which are often not the same things), we formulate a plan to help them get it; this is where finding their voice comes in. The act of finding your voice is a three-step process in which a person or company:
1. Identifies the blocks that are impeding them from moving from current state to desired state. Two common but serious blocks are a mental block related to confidence, and a communication block.
2. Finds the courage to communicate assertively and in a manner that yields the desired outcome.
3. Connects in a way that resonates and builds trust with the other party.
Mimicking takes place during Step #3. Mimicking has traditionally meant mirroring a person’s body language, feelings, and style of speech. With my clients, however, I take the idea of mimicking to a new level because so much of our communication today takes place via email. Have you ever considered how well you align with your most important email correspondents, and how doing so or neglecting to do so may impact their desire to further engage with you?
In many ways, email and texting have diminished the significance of the written word. Everyone fires off messages without giving them a second thought. Yet as recipients of emails and texts we still analyze and subconsciously evaluate them. A disregard for punctuation, correct spelling, and professional tone, as well as the use of emoticons, have watered down and marginalized the meaning of our messaging. These things have also created opportunities for a misalignment of communication.
For example, the following is a modification of an email exchange between my client and her customer (names have been changed):
Email from my client’s customer (Sally) to my client (Jane):
Hope you had a good Mother’s Day. Can we move our meeting on Tuesday to 1:00?
Reply email from my client (Jane) to her customer (Sally):
I hope you had a great Mother’s Day too! We spent the entire weekend on the soccer field at tournaments. OMG it was SO busy but it was great!!
Yes we can move our appointment on Wednesday – no problem!!
Have a great day!
These two tones are worlds apart. Sally’s email included the obligatory, perfunctory Mother’s Day acknowledgement, but the intention of the email was crystal clear: to change the meeting time.
Jane’s response was WAY too friendly compared with the initial email, and may have even crossed a personal boundary by providing information that had nothing to do with Sally’s communication intent. While this disconnect may seem trivial, it is actually quite telling regarding how attuned the correspondents are to one another. If a person can’t read the communication cues in a simple email or stay within context of the purpose of the email, how can they be trusted to tune into complex customer or project requirements?
Communication attunement is an essential skill set for establishing trust with key decision makers, and with critical business contacts including customers, employees, and strategic partners. This premise gets to the heart of the oldest business strategy in the book: People do business with those they trust.
People are most comfortable with tones that mirror their own. In our personal lives, we have the choice to seek out those that naturally align with us. In business, however, we don’t always have that choice so we have to work harder at alignment. Trust starts with alignment, attunement, and communicating mutual understanding. Sometimes these require an intentional effort.
How attuned are you in your relationships and your email communications? The next time you’re writing an email to a key business contact, take a few minutes to check your tone, topic, and even your emoticons against their emails.
It’s always the right time to give your attunement a tune-up.
PS: It’s no surprise that men and women sometimes seem as if they are from different planets when it comes to communication. The difference has been scientifically proven. New research indicates that there is a biological reason why women talk so much more than men-20,000 words a day spoken by the average woman, according to one study, versus about 7,000 words a day for the average man.
Women’s brains have higher levels of a “language protein” called FOXP2, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. This protein is involved in vocalization levels, which is also why women tend to write more.
Ladies-keep this in mind when your male counterparts respond to your 4-paragraph email with a one-word answer!