Pacing and Leading Mimicry and MirroringLeadership & Influence

Pacing And Leading: Using Mimicry And Mirroring To Influence And Lead Others


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Pacing and leading, also called mimicry and mirroring, is an easy way to connect with someone. And you do it simply by imitating the person you are persuading. Chances are you’ve never been taught it. But the best persuaders use it to increase their influence in the workplace and you should too.

Why Reasoning Is Rarely Persuasive

The mistake people make when they influence others is that they directly try persuading them with reasoning and facts. However, new discoveries in cognitive sciences show that people are not persuaded by rational reasoning but by irrational tendencies derived mostly from their emotional state.

The leading theory, called the argumentative theory, proposes that reasoning evolved in early humans more for the sake of winning arguments than as a guide to effective decision making (1). You should never try to be persuasive with others at work by directly reasoning with them.

Most behavioral scientists now agree that trying to bring people to your side only with facts usually fails. The effective way to be persuasive at work is to move people to a more receptive emotional state prior to influencing them–a pre-suasive state or sweet spot that triggers the primitive and more active decision-making processes (2).

Pacing And Leading

Mirroring  someone provides such a pre-suasive avenue and is a concept from neuro-linguistic programming. The technique involves first pacing or matching the person you are trying to lead, mimicking their posture, speech, gestures, and most importantly, emotion. If paced correctly, you will establish rapport and trust with them. In this connected state, you will appear more persuasive to them. They will view you as their leader.

The next time you meet with sales reps you might notice them mirroring you. Even with your awareness of this technique it will still work on you. Now this is precisely what separates true persuasion techniques from the rest that don’t work.

In several studies, people’s verbal and nonverbal behavior (gestures, posture) were mimicked and mirrored. It resulted in waitresses doubling their tips (3), negotiators obtaining better outcomes (4), and electronics store salespeople getting greater compliance from customers and selling more products to them (5).

Pacing And Leading Method

1. Synchronize To Their Breathing

For practice, match the breathing rate and depth of someone near you at a meeting. Look away and then check back to see if you are still timed. Soon you will get good at this.

2. Match Their Posture And Gestures

If they have their arms folded and are leaning forward, you should too. If they change position, you should continue matching some of this. Give yourself about a three second lag before you mimic an action to not make it obvious.

3. Match Their Speech And Emotions

Use the same tone, volume, and verbal style. Use similar words and phrases, even repeating some back. Gauge their emotional state and mimic it through your actions and words. Your mimicking should be strategic, don’t copy every action.

4. Check For Pacing

After some time, make a change of your own like uncrossing your arms or leaning back. If paced, they will follow your shift and now copy you.

5. Begin Leading

You can now change your emotions to get them to align with you and initiate leading with the greatest chance of compliance.

6. Bonus Move

Just prior to your request, provide a genuine compliment. This acts as a force multiplier and brings about even greater willingness to follow.

How Mirroring Helps You Connect With Someone

The mechanism, from a behavioral sciences perspective, is that when you mimic and mirror someone, a strong sense of similarity and unity with you is created in their mind. Humans evolved to experience feelings of liking (6), interpersonal trust (7), and social bonding (8) with people who are synchronized with them (dancing, singing, marching).

Cognitive scientists believe that these effects arise due to a blurring of the perception of ‘self’ and ‘other’ leading to this strong affiliation (9, 10). Neurohormonal mechanisms also play a role during synchronization with the release of endogenous opioids that encourage social attachment (10).

This likeness leads to them liking and trusting you (2). The compliment lets them know that you like them (dopamine boost). In this privileged state, they are cognitively primed to perfection (pre-suaded). Now the facts you provide are used to justify a decision they have already made, to be led by you.  Like Renee Zellweger’s character in Jerry Maguire — “You had me at hello.”

Simply trying to be persuasive with someone at work through reasoning and facts alone will only make them argue and resist, leading to low compliance. You must use the persuasion technique of pacing them first.

Examples Where You Could Use Pacing And Leading At Work

A great opportunity for mirroring is when your employees are emotionally vulnerable (fear, insecurity, frustration). The conventional leader will think that being calm will help mitigate things. Surprisingly, this actually leads to more stress as they realize their leader is out of touch with them. Instead, match their stress level and posture. Speak about the fears they have using their words. Get synchronized with them. Then work them to a better state of mind with your plan and vision going from despair to resoluteness and hope. This is the real way to be persuasive at work.

At job interviews, pace the interviewer’s breathing, use some of the same phrases they use, and match their posture and emotions. Compliment them. Then lead them to your candidacy. They will be inexplicably drawn to you and want you on their team.

This is weapons-grade persuasion. You can even use this on your own management. Try it with your children or spouse (if you dare). You will be surprised at the many “yes” responses you get. Enjoy this superpower but only use it to be persuasive at work in positive situations. Never to manipulate others.

Here you will find my recommended list of books that cover additional ways for you to influence better in the workplace.

Best Books To Improve Your Influencing And Persuasion Skills

Shaun Mendonsa, PhD is an influencing expert and pharmaceutical development leader. He writes on the topics of influence and persuasion, and develops next generation drugs in human pharma by advising international pharmaceutical CROs and CMOs. He can be reached at

For an interesting take on how President Trump used pacing and leading to rally his base in the 2016 elections, read Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter, a New York Times bestselling book by Scott Adams, Dilbert creator and persuasion expert.  This book has many other useful persuasion tips as well.

For the religiously minded, here are some examples from 2000 years ago.  St. Paul in 1 COR 9: 21-22 says, “To those not having the law I became like one not having the law……, so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”  And didn’t God pace us by coming to us in the form of man?  The best way to lead humans to salvation is by coming as one of us, like Christ did.  The most glorious pacing and leading ever!


  1. Mercier, H.; Sperber, D. “Why do Humans Reason? Arguments for an Argumentative Theory” Behavioral and Brian Sciences, 2011, 34, 57-111.
  2. Cialdini, R. “Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade” Simon & Schuster, New York, NY 2016.
  3. Van Baaren, R. B.; Holland, R. W.; Steenaert, B.; van Knippenberg, A. “Mimicry for Money: Behavioral Consequences of Imitation” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2003, 39, 393-398.
  4. Maddux, W. W.; Mullen, E. E.; Galinsky, A. D. “Chameleons Bake Bigger Pies and Take Bigger Pieces: Strategic Behavioral Mimicry Facilitates Negotiation Outcomes” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2008, 44, 461-468.
  5. Jacob, C.; Guéguen, N.; Martin, A.; Boulbry, G. “Retail Salespeople’s Mimicry of Customers: Effects on Consumer Behavior” Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 2011, 18, 381-388.
  6. Hove, M.J.; Risen, J.L. “It’s all in the Timing: Interpersonal Synchrony Increases Affiliation” Social Cognition, 2009, 27, 949–961.
  7. Launay, J.; Dean, R.T.; Bailes, F. “Synchronization can Influence Trust Following Virtual Interaction” Experimental Psychology, 2013, 60, 53–63.
  8. Tarr, B.; Launay, J.; Cohen, E.; Dunbar, R. “Synchrony and Exertion During Dance Independently Raise Pain Threshold and Encourage Social Bonding” Biology Letters, 2015, 11, 0767.
  9. Decety, J.; Sommerville, J.A. “Shared Representations Between Self and Other: A Social Cognitive Neuroscience View” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2003, 7, 527–533.
  10. Tarr, B.; Launay, J.; Dunbar, R.I.M. “Music and Social Bonding: ‘Self–Other’ Merging and Neurohormonal Mechanisms” Frontiers in Psychology: Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience, 2014, 5, 1-10.


How to be persuasive at work, Persuasive leadership, Influence, Persuasion, Pacing And Leading, Mimicry and Mirroring

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