It’s quite well established that mirroring the behaviours of those around us is a good way to ingratiate ourselves with them. Whether it’s their body language, gestures, posture or even inflections, the ability to reflect the person we’re talking to is a good way of ensuring they like and agree with us.
This so called ’chameleon effect’ has a potential downside to it, however. A recent study has found that we don’t always only mimic the good things our partner does, but often also their negative things, which can land us in hot water.
The research asked participants to engage in a telephone based job interview, with the ’recruiter’ told they could earn $50 for selecting the best candidate during the mock job interview.
Before each interview began, the ’interviewee’ was asked to give a short talk about themselves and their background. This was used to determine the normal tone of voice. The participants were then placed into the phone interview, where they had to respond to a series of questions about their job history. Each question was pre-recorded by a female interviewer, with the only difference being the tone of voice. Some were quizzed in a neutral tone, whereas others were quizzed in a negative tone.
At the end of the interview, each participant was asked to rate how they found the experience. On things such as nerves, comfort and self-consciousness, all participants reported similar feelings, regardless of the tone of their interviewer.
The same was not the case, however, when a team of recruiters began to evaluate the interviews. They were asked to rate each applicant on a 9 point scale for things such as expected performance, interpersonal skills and the probability of hiring the person.
A different team then analyzed the voices of each applicant for things such as enthusiasm, warmth, interest and affect.
After this analysis, it emerged that applicants would inadvertently copy the negative tone of their potential boss, which resulted in significantly lower performance ratings compared to another group who were faced with a more neutral-toned interviewer.
“The current study demonstrates that people will mimic negative behaviors during social interactions, even when that mimicry causes negative outcomes,” the authors say. “At the very least, it is now clear that there is a darker side to behavioral mimicry.”
How we Expressive Negative Feelings
The study revealed that interviewers who held a negative expectation of a candidate would often express this unconsciously through the tone of their voice, or visually via things such as their posture or facial expression. If these are then mimicked by the interviewee, it often leads a bad impression and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where the interview inevitably ends badly.
“This experiment demonstrated that participants in a simulated interview mimicked the negative tone of voice of an interviewer, that the interviewer’s tone led to a self-fulfilling prophecy in terms of participants’ performance, and that the effect of interviewer tone on applicant performance occurred through a shift in applicants’ tone of voice,” the paper concludes.
All of this give us something extra to worry about in an interview situation. It’s usually better to be forewarned about these things, however, so it is at least something for you to keep an eye out for to ensure you don’t fall into the same trap. How to change the negative tone of the interviewer, of course, is another matter entirely.