An effective persuader will pay close attention to the body language of the person he or she is trying to persuade, and then mimic that body language.  “People like and trust people whom they perceive to be similar to themselves,” said Brown.  “The more you can be like the person you are dealing with, the more you will be able to establish essential rapport.”

Good friends and romantic partners, for example, tend to do this naturally.

Is the person you are sitting across from soft-spoken? Does he speak slowly, smile and laugh a lot? Is his notepad on the desk or his lap, does he take copious notes, are his legs crossed, is he leaning forward or backward?  These are important things to notice and reflect in your own body language.

Two terms often heard in the field of neurolinguistics are mirroring and matching. “Mirroring occurs when you copy a person’s body language as if you were that person’s reflection in a mirror,” said Brown.  “If the person you are facing leans to the left, for example, you lean to the right.  In other words, you might both lean towards the door.

“Precisely mirroring another person at exactly the same time can be too intense,” said Brown.  “It can actually backfire by making the person too uncomfortable.  The only time mirroring works well is when you are sitting across from someone who is very stiff and symmetrical.”

Almost always, you want to match rather than mirror the person you are speaking with.  “When you match, you copy the person more loosely,” said Brown.  “If the person you are facing leans to the left, you lean to your left – the other way from a mirror image.  If the other person leans towards the door, you would lean away from the door.

“You don’t want to do this immediately after the other person moves,” said Brown, “but perhaps five or ten seconds later, or when it is your turn to speak.

“When having a conversation, it is a good idea to stand or sit at a 45-degree angle to the person on whom you want to make a positive impression,” said Brown.  “Standing or sitting right across from someone and staring them straight in the eye can be seen as confrontational and put that person on his or her guard, rather than creating rapport.”

How to interpret a handshake

Brown discussed a number of circumstances where it can be useful to understand and correctly respond to another person’s body language.

The handshake, for example, is the standard greeting in business situations. The ideal handshake is the “equal shake,” where the clasp is vertical and the grasp is firm.  It says that you are meeting on common ground and want a nice, even interaction.

When the other person shakes your hand and turns their palm down, they want to dominate the interaction.  The same holds true for a ‘bone crusher.’ When the person turns their palm up, they are welcoming and likely to do what you want.  A limp ‘dead fish’ handshake indicates a lack of backbone.   A person who shakes hand with just the fingertips is unlikely to want to do business with you.


This is part three of a three-part article.  For the entire article:

When persuading, body language beats words