Negotiators often anticipate distrust and competition, thus building trust and rapport to establish a positive relationship is critical in achieving a successful negotiation outcome. There are many ways to establish a positive relationship between negotiators; mimicry is one tactic often used that creates beneficial interactions and is associated with better negotiation outcomes. For instance, studies have found that when individuals purposefully imitate the behavioral mannerisms of their counterparts during face-to-face negotiations, they achieve better negotiation outcomes (i.e., reaching an acceptable deal and viewing their negotiating partner more favorably).

Just like behavioral mimicry in face-to-face negotiations, mimicking the language of one’s negotiation partner during online negotiations has been found to lead to positive negotiation outcomes as well. In an increasingly virtual world, individuals are finding that they must adapt their behaviors and methods of interaction to better suit an online environment. Verbal mimicry is what Muir and colleagues (2020) explored to better understand how it facilitates successful online negotiations. 

Their research involved the widely used exercise in mimicry research where participants engage in a negotiation as a job candidate and recruiter over terms of an employment offer extended to the candidate. The terms contained eight issues (e.g., salary, bonus, location) and each of the issues had five options (e.g., bonus options range from 10% to 2%), each worth a number of points with the goal of gaining the greatest possible points by the end of the negotiation period.

They did this with the purpose of investigating whether mimicry results in better negotiation outcomes, looking at the effects of mimicry of specific word types and their impact on interpersonal perceptions of trust and rapport.

They found that verbal mimicry was associated with greater points gained and perceptions of rapport from the mimicked partner: individuals gained more points at the end of the negotiation if they mimicked their partner, compared with if they did not mimic their partner. Their results further suggested that mimicry of interrogative phrases (e.g., What do you think? How should we do this? Why do you want that?) could be of importance in facilitating negotiations. Asking questions in negotiations generally allows more information sharing, and mimicking each other’s use of questions encourages even greater information sharing about the issues important to both parties, yielding more successful negotiation outcomes.

In today’s increasingly digital world, more and more negotiations are taking place online, and these findings offer a helpful guide for practitioners on how to leverage the benefits of mimicry to win negotiations in a virtual world.

Joinson, A Collins, E Muir, K Dewdney, N & Cotterill, R. (2020,5 26).  When Asking “What” and “How” Helps You Win: Mimicry of Interrogative Terms Facilitates Successful Online Negotiations. Negotiation and Conflict Management Research