The best way to learn a foreign language is to mirror a native speaker. Listen, pay close attention to the sounds they make, the words they group together, and then try to match it: their phrasing, pronunciation, sounds…even the movements they make.
We are social creatures, and this sort of behavior comes naturally to us. It’s called “speech alignment,” and it’s been shown to facilitate communication and mutual understanding. Even more interesting, how much speech alignment we engage in is often a function of how much we agree or disagree with what’s being said. (We also speech align less with AI than we do with people, at least for now).
These effects can be short term (I thought a 60dB team member had an American accent in English until a heard her in a Loom video—100% Brit!!) or long term (my wife losing her Southern accent when she moved to the Northeast).
While mirroring can help us do everything from learn languages to get into verbal sync with someone, its unintended consequence can be that we amplify negative tendencies we come across in others.
As in, we:
- Meet someone who acts socially awkward and mirror that social awkwardness, making it harder to connect
- Come across a slow / uncommunicative (potential) client and find ourselves responding slowly / being uncommunicative
- Match unprovoked aggression with more aggression.
- Join a group that is consensus-oriented and start tamping down our willingness to share our opposing point of view
Everywhere we go, we take in the behaviors of the people around us. It’s as natural as breathing.
And, just like we can take a moment to notice our breath (or drop our shoulders, or relax our face…try it now) we can bring our speech alignment into our consciousness.
It’s one more chance to become aware of, and take control of, our natural responses, and, if we choose, to zig when others zag.