Imitation

Goal: Understanding and building rapport.

Setting: Persons who are creative, individualistic, or otherwise "different" often have difficulty connecting with others, fitting into the society around them, even when they want to. What can be done to understand this process, and make more options available?

[Note: We borrowed this idea from the "pacing and mirroring" practices of a movement called Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). An authoritative book on NLP defined mirroring as "Precisely matching portions of another person's behavior," and pacing as "Gaining and maintaining rapport with another person over a period of time by joining them in their model of the world. You can pace beliefs and ideas as well as behavior." (Introducing Neuro-Linguistic Programming by Joseph O'Connor and John Seymour, Revised Edition, Thorsons/HarperCollins, 1995).) The book is subtitled "psychological skills for understanding and influencing people" -- an excellent short description of NLP.]

Practice: We cannot provide a brief but useful how-to for these practices. Instead we suggest borrowing from a very different book, How to Make a Man Fall in Love with You, by Tracy Cabot (Dell, 1984) -- which doesn't mention NLP although it clearly borrows from it, and which sometimes uses terminology differently ("abstract mirroring" instead of "pacing"). This book has also been used in law enforcement to teach modern police-interrogation techniques, which are shifting from fear toward intimacy as a way of getting information out of a suspect (SF Weekly, September 16-22, 1998, cover story on lying). In any case, the "mirroring" chapters are excellent.

Another approach to mirroring is the "reflective listening" exercise sometimes used in psychology classes, or in debate training: The participants switch viewpoints, so that each does as good a job as possible in arguing the other's side. This exercise, which is difficult at first for most people, teaches listening skills, presentation, and better understanding of others.

Why are mirroring-type exercises important?

Humans are herd animals in most respects, creating problems for those who are different (voluntarily or not). Modern cosmopolitan society, the most complex in human history, creates niche ecologies where many kinds of people can find a place. Today there are many points of strain between this emerging world and traditional societies where people had far fewer options.

Schools provide one example. Most of those who are different are not accepted, and are either isolated or outcasts -- but some are accepted as social leaders. Clearly certain skills can make the difference. But these are not being taught effectively, so we need new methods for teaching them.

Deliberate imitation, done skillfully and appropriately, offers a kind of model conformity which is completely voluntary, since you can turn it on or off at any time. You don't need to stop being yourself to be accepted or popular.

Building communication skills offers an alternative for young people and others who are pressured to hide their talents and personal vision, in order to be included instead of ostracized by their associates.

[Return to home page]