The Echo Effect: How Repeating People’s Words Improves Social Interaction

echo effect

People who are masters at communication often make good use of repeating back the words they hear from the people they are speaking with.

When people use the same words, it creates less social distance between them and makes them feel more similar to each other. But when people use very different words, it creates more social distance and makes them feel more disconnected from each other.

Psychologists are now calling this the “echo effect.” The basic idea is that by repeating back the words people use, we can benefit our social interactions in a variety of ways.

A recent study published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology elaborates on this effect. They found that mirroring people’s words can be very important in building likability, safety, rapport, and social cohesion.

It places you in their world

The language people use reflects the reality they live in. Psychology research shows that language can have a strong influence on how we think about our world and perceive it.

When you use the “echo effect,” you – to some degree – put yourself closer to the world that the other person lives in. This gives you a better chance to empathize with that person and truly understand where they are coming from and why they speak and behave in the way they do.

This is why it’s a good idea to adopt the same words a person uses. But it’s also important that you understand what the other person means by the words they use too.

If a person says a word that you aren’t familiar with, or you are not sure of it’s meaning, then simply ask the person, “What do you mean by X?”

This mirroring and clarification of language builds a clearer understanding of the other person’s worldview and perspective. And the greater your understanding, the better your communication is going to be.

It signals you’re on the same page

Repeating people’s words helps with your own personal understanding of another person’s point-of-view, but it also sends a social signal to the listener too.

The “echo effect” tells people that you’re on the same page as them. It shows that you’re listening to what they are saying, and not just thinking about what you want to say. It also shows the other person that there is a mutual understanding between the two of you.

In one recent study published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management, it was found that waitresses who verbally mimicked a person’s order were more likely to receive higher tips.

Mirroring people’s words shows an effort to understand the other person and be correct in your assumptions. It shows that you care and you don’t want there to be a miscommunication.

It improves comfort and likability

The “echo effect” plays an important role in building comfort and likability with any person you are interacting with.

Many studies (such as 1 and 2) show the various benefits of mimicry in creating feelings of safety, comfort, trust, and rapport. Many psychologists consider mimicry to be a “social glue” – one of the main driving forces behind what connects us.

This has many different applications, whether it’s talking to a family member, or having an argument with a friend, or trying to negotiate a business deal – making use of the “echo effect” will lead to healthier and more effective communication.

This is one big reason I recommend “speaking the other person’s language” in my article about how to improve persuasion. You can’t persuade someone if you haven’t built comfort and trust with them.

How to practice the “echo effect” more

Here are quick tips on how to practice the “echo effect” more in your daily social interactions:

  • Really listen to the person you are talking to. Pay particular attention to words they use frequently.
  • If you don’t understand what a person means by a certain word, just ask them, “What do you mean by X?”

  • Often, you can simply repeat back to people what they say in the form of a question. For example, “I didn’t get the job” → “You didn’t get the job?”
  • Repeat when appropriate – don’t just be a robot. Often repeating works best when you want to continue the flow of the conversation and allow the person to give you more information.
  • When you do add to the conversation, use the same words and phrases the other person uses, with the same intended meaning. Try to communicate your own ideas and thoughts using the other person’s language as best you can.

Using the “echo effect” more in your social interactions can greatly improve your conversational skills and people skills. Try to take advantage of it more!

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