skip to main content

Talk Like They Do

It requires wisdom to understand wisdom: the music is nothing if the audience is deaf.

Walter Lippmann

Talk Like They Talk

Recent stories about how people change how they talk depending on where they are and who they are got me thinking about its implication to small business owners and entrepreneurs.

One story in particular involved Megan Markle, now The Duchess of Sussex but originally hails from California, who now is conveniently speaking with an English-aristocratic style.  A second example is found in nearly every election, with politicians developing accents resembling the part of the county they are stumping in.

I question whether it is beneficial to speak the way your audience speaks or maintain your authentic self and speak as you always talk.

Talk Like They Talk in Business

Whether you’re pitching a big client, presenting to an executive, or attempting to win over a governmental agency, the key to prevailing is a strong preexisting relationship with the person you are speaking to.

Why is that?

Research has shown that preexisting relationships give people greater insight into how their evaluators think, reason, interpret, and process evidence, helping them tailor their messages with a process called linguistic mirroring.

For example, suppose you know that the person you are attempting to address favors linear, logical reasoning in their own communications. In that case, you’re most likely to convince them with arguments that rely heavily on facts.

On the other hand, to influence someone who uses a more narrative, informal style, you would be better off leading with a story.

When you mirror your counterpart’s preferred communication style, they’re likely to find you more convincing — so being familiar with whoever will be evaluating you can give you a significant advantage.

How to Talk Like They Talk

  1. Pay attention to how others communicate.

To influence others, notice how they reason, articulate their thoughts, ask questions, and respond to counterarguments. Then use those insights to inform your own communication style. Specifically:

  • Does your evaluator tend to rely on facts and data or on anecdotal evidence and storytelling to prove a point?
  • When they communicate, do they exude confidence and expertise or take a humbler approach?
  • How much do they disclose personal information and convey their emotions versus remaining more professional and detached?
  • When asking a question or making a point, do they tend to be emotional, energetic, calm, and collected?
  1. Build relationships.

For business relationships, it is essential to know how your counterpart communicates.

The best method is to interact with them and build an ongoing personal relationship.  This, however, is not always possible.  Alternatively, look for meeting minutes, talks, or articles that are available online that represent their communication style.  Interviewing others who know them personally is another option.

  1. Don’t forget about ethics.

Linguistic mirroring is a highly effective tool for persuading a customer to buy your company’s product or service. But you’ll want to be sure you’re presenting an honest picture of your offering concerning the client’s needs and not using your influence to manipulate the client into making a poor decision.

Whether or not we recognize it, influence is a critical factor in our business lives.

Every day we seek to influence customers, suppliers, distributors, and our colleagues — and the research shows that our effectiveness stems not just from the merits of our arguments but also from the way in which we deliver those arguments.

If we’re familiar with the people we are trying to influence; we can mirror their linguistic styles, conferring a decisive advantage. It’s up to us to use that advantage for good.

The Bible

This story starts in the early days of Christianity.

Luke tells us in Acts 17 that a group of philosophers began to argue with the Apostle Paul. They took him to the Areopagus (Mars Hill), where some of their leaders asked Paul to explain his beliefs.

Paul began with an affirmation of the people:

“I see that you are very religious.” (Acts 17:22)

Paul went on to find a point of connection between the Athenians’ faith and his own. He noted that he had seen an altar “to an unknown God.” Once again, Paul did not criticize this altar but saw in it an opportunity to connect the God he proclaimed to a god they already admitted might exist.

Paul was employing linguistic mirroring.

He used what the Athenians knew and believed as the foundation for his arguments.  Paul knew how to speak as the Athenians spoke.

Speaking as others speak is not about accents, grammar, or word usage. It is speaking in the form they use to rationalize and think.  And through this method, we will always be able to have better influence over their decisions.

Business leaders need to maintain their authenticity.  But they also need to present convincing arguments to potential customers, employees, shareholders, and the public.  Practice linguistic mirroring so the, just as the Apostle Paul, they can speak as the audience speaks.