Increase Sales with The Chameleon Effect – by Peter McLaughlin

In sales, customer service and leadership, rapport is vital to any successful interaction.  Whether a person engages with you, trusts you, believes in what you say, and likes working with you – it all relies upon the foundation of rapport.

It is perhaps the single most powerful element of human connection.

In many instances sales deals are won or lost by the thinnest of margins.  A shift here or there can make all the difference.  The “Chameleon Effect,” as researchers have come to call it, can give your sales team a ten percent edge on all the deals in their pipeline.

It’s like adopting another person’s unique customs when you’re in their home or their place of worship.  It’s a sign of caring and respect which enables us to make strong connections with others, understand our other people better, and ultimately make a positive difference for those we serve.

Most human communication is actually non-verbal, and depending upon the circumstances may account for as much as 93% of the meaning in our communication.  The true intention of our interactions is actually happening on a subconscious level.

When we first meet someone, we’re often consciously thinking about what to say next or what we want from the other person.

Meanwhile, underneath the surface, both people are gathering huge amounts of data on the other, based upon body language and other non-verbals.  This data is then fed back to the participants through feelings.  We’ve all had these experiences when we meet people: instantly feeling a strong connection with a new person, or… not trusting her at all.

New York University has studied non-conscious interactions between people and confirmed what the discipline of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) has been teaching for years: that people in rapport match each others’ body positions, and that this matching, in and of itself, establishes rapport.

Researchers studied both a test group and a control group as they interacted with an interviewer.  Unbeknownst to the test group, the interviewer subtly matched some of the body positions of the subjects, by crossing arms and legs, smiling, leaning forwards and backwards, etc.  The interviewer did none of this matching with the control group.

At the end of the experiment, the test group rated the interviewer 10% more likeablethan did their peers in the control group.  Thus, the “Chameleon Effect.”

There are a number of methods for subtly matching another person, or what NLP calls “mirroring.” In the NYU test, the researchers employed only one method for establishing unconscious rapport and still they recorded a ten percent advantage – enough to make a difference in close deals.

So what are the mechanics of putting these concepts into the sales process and utilizing it in the field?

There are several important points to keep in mind when building rapport and establishing what amounts to a subconscious connection.

  1. You don’t need to mirror every action of the other person.  One or two will suffice.
  2. Moving your body only when you are speaking makes your actions far more natural.
  3. You must be very subtle.  You are not parroting the other person, you are merely hinting at their actions.  If you appear to be mimicking the other person you will damage your relationship.
  4. Practice with colleagues and in social situations.  You’ll actually catch yourself unconsciously mirroring your friends.

The NYU researchers built rapport and registered the 10% advantage using body positioning alone, but there are several other methods for establishing rapport.  Since most human communication is non-verbal, the tone of your voice and how you speak become important tools as well.

Matching vocal pitch, tonality, tempo and volume are all ways of establishing unconscious rapport.  As with matching body movements and positions, you don’t have to match everything.  One or two aspects are all you need.  You are merely shading or moving toward the prospect’s way of speaking, not matching it exactly.

If you’re from the northeast U.S. and speaking with a person from Georgia, you’re not going for a southern drawl.  You might merely slow down your relatively rapid speech patterns and move in the direction of the other.  It must be natural; subtlety is your watchword.

When I do trainings and speak at events, I’m often asked, “what if we are not being authentic when we utilize these techniques?”  My response is that if we put our focus upon our customers and enter their world, then we are right where we need to be.

It’s like adopting another person’s unique customs when you’re in their home or their place of worship.  I believe most would agree that’s a sign of caring and respect.  This, in turn, enables us to make strong connections with others, understand people better, and ultimately make a positive difference for those we serve.


Peter McLaughlin has been in sales for his entire career. His experience ranges from conventional employment with corporations to owning, growing and selling a company in the security industry.

In addition to his extensive sales experience, Peter has an unusual background, which includes professional actor, volunteer firefighter and professional hypnotist. This latter endeavor was spurred by a leukemia diagnosis in 2003. In his journey, he realized we communicate primarily non-verbally, buy for emotional reasons and we really learn nothing until we get our hands on our subject. Peter leads sales trainings of the theoretical underpinnings and the practical techniques described in his book: Becoming the Customer, Empathy, Influence and Closing the Sale. With realistic role-playing as the centerpiece, he brings the skills of non-verbal communication, emotion in decision-making and insights from neuroscience into the realm of professional selling & customer service.

Peter is a member of Actor’s Equity and SAG/AFTRA and an experienced presenter, moderator and panelist. He lives in Western New York with his wife and three children.


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