mirroring emotions


Back in 2012 or 2023 I got the following advice for job interviews:

Mirror the actions of the interviewer

I found it super weird. Who does that? Is this a … trick to manipulate those I’m talking to into thinking I’m … something I’m not? Isn’t that bad?

I think there’s a possible positive interpretation as well, one of charity and willingness.

Am I willing to adapt to my environment? If yes, that’s going to happen in part by mirroring actions. If I’m willing to copy some behavior, I’m willing to cooperate (to some extent).

But what’s the point of mirroring actions? Learning can be one. Children mirror behavior from others to learn, parents, other children, characters on screens. In some cases, mirroring is required to learn something, especially when learning practice. Theory makes sense, but you can’t judge practice on whether it makes sense; good practice works. See In theory, it makes sense; in practice, it works for a longer exploration.

What about emotions? I think mirrored emotions are more interesting than mirrored actions. Actions are at the surface, emotions are below the surface. I think trust between two humans is correlated with mirrored emotions—though I don’t have any evidence to back that up.

Mirrored emotions interest me, because they speak to something beyond pure logic. You can’t think yourself into a trust-based relationship with someone. Trust cannot be completely understood as something rational. There’s more to it.

“It’s a good tool” doesn’t fully explain how it feels, though. There’s a certain magic between two people when they are in sync. And it’s not only about effective communication. Interactions bring more joy and more energy. You’re no longer alone in your actions, there’s somebody else with you.

In my experience, poor conversations are often characterized by little or zero mirroring effort from both parts. Or a one-sided mirroring effort. If both people both make an effort leaning into what’s coming from the other, and bring some of their own identity, it’ll get better.