2 Effective Leadership Communication Skills You Should Add to Your Toolbox: Mirroring & Pacing

by | May 19, 2015

exec_coach_blog_feb_04The single most important job as a manager and a leader is communication. Effective leadership communication skills help you enroll people in your vision and encourage them to give their best in pursuit of your goals. They help you to communicate in a way that resonates with them.

It’s not all about the words you speak; conversations are so much more than that. How do you listen? What messages does your body language release? When you become aware of these aspects of communication, you can lead more effective teams.

Here are two helpful tools for your success as a leader:

1. Mirroring: Empathy In Action

Why is yawning contagious? Recent research has uncovered that contagious yawning is a result of “mirroring neurons.” These neurons tell our body to respond to the actions of those around us. As humans, we evolved to fit in and be part of the group; in other words, we show empathy. In fact, scientists theorize that the more empathetic you are, the more prone you are to contagious yawning.

We tend to mirror each other unconsciously. If, for instance, you are sitting down with friends, you might take notice that everyone has his or her legs crossed. This isn’t accidental; it’s mirroring. Your neurons are responding to the body language of the others in the room.

What does this have to do with managing your staff? When you shift mirroring into a conscious place, it can be used as an effective communication tool. When you signal to your people that you are on the same page, it helps them relax and share information with you. That is why mirroring can be one of the most effective leadership communication skills in your toolbox.

Mirroring involves responding to someone else’s body language — not mimicking it. There is a significant difference. Mimicking can be destructive and lead to an individual feeling degraded. Imagine if someone were copying your exact movements or facial expressions. The implication is, of course, that you’re doing something foolish. That’s certainly not the impression you want to create for your team! Instead, focus on the body language messages they are sending and respond subtly and in kind.

Mirroring is subtle. It allows us to connect in reflective ways and respond to body language as well as to the words spoken during a conversation. For example, as a manager, I invite an employee into my office for a discussion. I notice that she sits back in her chair. It’s not appropriate for me to lean forward because we will be disconnected. If I also sit back, I am responding subtly to what this individual needs in terms of nonverbal communication and signaling my empathy.

2. Pacing: Long-Distance Situations

If you have remote employees or speak to them via telephone, you don’t have the luxury of seeing their facial expressions or body cues. It’s critical—perhaps even more so when you don’t see the person—to establish communication on the same wavelength. Pacing the conversation is an important way to do that. In this case, you essentially “mirror” the other person’s pace and communication style with your voice to meet the needs of the other person.

For instance, if he or she speaks quickly, you also speak quickly. If they have a slower pace, you adopt that style. If they use sports analogies or humor, you try those techniques as well. You mirror the other person’s tone, cadence, style, and rhythm, which will instantly put them at ease.

This pacing technique, like mirroring, helps build rapport and signals that you are like your listener. You’re not a carbon copy or devoid of your own personality; rather, your behavior sends the signal that you are empathetic and can be trusted.

Be Accountable for All of  Your Communications

Both mirroring and pacing are effective leadership communication skills that can help elevate your communications and make your team more effective. When you commit to being fully accountable for all of your communications, great things can happen. When you hear the phrases, “I’m present” and “I’m with you,” it clears the way for better conversations. As you move forward with these practices as a manager and leader, you’re sure to achieve positive results.

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