When Being Understood Becomes Manipulative
A little while ago I talked to a consultant at Google who wanted to help me improve my web presence. The conversation was helpful, but what struck me most on a psychological level was how the customer service rep responded to me.
Whenever I asked a question, however short it was, the first thing that came out of his mouth was: “Got it.”
Me: “If I call my website something other than my name, does that mean anything?”
He: “Got it. No it probably doesn’t because…” blah blah blah.
I have mixed feelings about this way of responding.
The intention seems to be to make the customer feel that he was understood, which is a smart way to think. We all want to be heard and understood.
The principle behind it is making use of the mirror neurons in our brains. When we talk to someone, we ideally want them to mirror back what we said, so we can be sure they heard us. The other person puts himself into our shoes, which builds trust and makes us like the person on the other end of the phone line.
Writing down this thought, I spontaneously googled “companies mirroring customers,” and sure enough, what came up is a manual in “advanced selling techniques,” that works by building trust.
Excerpt (note: the customer is called “prospect”):
“In sales we need to build value. Building trust will help you build value in the products you sell because the prospect will believe in you and your company.
Step #1 – Listen to the prospect. In this case I’m not just listening to the answer the prospect has given. I’m listening to how the customer gave the answer. What was their tone of voice, how fast were they speaking? Can I pick up a dialect? Are they even responding at all?
Step #2 – Once you pick up the pace of the conversation, the tone of the prospect and the dialect, try to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Once you are in their shoes mirror yourself to become just like the prospect. Recognize the tone and the dialect, and then mirror the pace. You will become a bit of a chameleon.”
Feeling manipulated yet?
Of course, mirroring can be used to express genuine compassion with another person. Then it’s about the one who is mirrored.
Or, it can be used to make them do something that’s really in the best interest of the other party. Then it’s about the one who mirrors.
The key understanding whether we are being coerced into something or truly being empathized with lies, as always, in our awareness of what is happening.
Schoen, G. (2012). When Being Understood Becomes Manipulative. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 3, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/gentle-self/2012/07/can-a-company-really-understand-me/