How to Use Mirror Neurons to Influence People [video transcript]

by Jesse Lahey on October 8, 2014

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” href=””>How to Use Mirror Neurons to Influence People

I have a jar of dill pickles in my office to help me share about the power of empathy in communicating for influence.

My dad tells a story from when he was a kid about going over to his grandmother’s house after baseball practice, being very thirsty and going straight to the refrigerator. Dad pulled out a pitcher of what he thought was cool, refreshing lemonade and poured himself a nice, tall glass.

Now, what Dad didn’t realize was that it was not lemonade in that pitcher but what we commonly refer to as “pickle juice.” That is the vinegar and salt and other seasonings that are left in the jar after you’ve eaten all the pickles. Now, apparently his grandmother believed in “waste not, want not,” and she didn’t even want to waste her pickle juice. So Dad was expecting the sweet, tart taste of lemonade when he took a great big gulp.

Wow! Well, you can imagine Dad’s surprise at the taste of that pickle juice, and I’ll bet you might have been surprised that you possibly tasted pickle juice in the back of your own mouth as well, or maybe your face reflected some of the facial gestures that I was making as I tasted that pickle juice. Why would that be, since I was the one tasting it, instead of you?

The answer is in what science refers to as “mirror neurons” or “empathy neurons.” These were discovered by accident about 20 years ago. The point of mirror neurons is that we literally mirror each other in corresponding regions of our brain. And this doesn’t just involve actions like tasting pickle juice. It also involves thoughts and feelings as well.

This brings us to the power of empathy. When we are communicating with another person or a group of people, if we can be thinking empathetically, that is, if we can be truly trying to understand their thoughts and feelings and allow ourselves to be influenced by their point of view, we are much more likely to trigger their mirror neurons and get a similar response from them. That is, they are going to be more empathetic to our perspective. They’re going to be more likely to be influenced by the way we’re thinking.

The opposite is if we’re simply owning our position and trying to persuade them to our point of view, they are more likely to own their position and put up a wall and defend their point of view.

Or they might say, “It’s pointless arguing with this person, let me just give in.” But they wouldn’t actually support or buy into that perspective.

It’s much more powerful if we can mutually arrive at a destination. And that happens as a result of empathetic thinking and mirror neurons because they are more likely to mirror that empathetic feeling that we have going on inside of us. That’s what pickle juice can teach us about the power of empathy.

I talk more about Powerful Empathy in Episode 4 of the Engaging Leader podcast, which you can find at

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