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Kenneth G. Hartman

Security Consultant,  
Forensic Analyst & 
Certified SANS Instructor

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Today I want to link two concepts together to create a powerful twist on the old adage “Be an actor, not a reactor.” I love reading about brain research and understanding how we learn. It seems our brain is constantly making connections between things that we are learning with things that we know. First let’s talk a bit more about our brain and then apply that concept to our everyday work life.

Mirror Neurons

In the early 1990’s a neuroscientist named Giacomo Rizzolatti and some of his graduate students discovered “mirror neurons” while scanning the brain activity of a monkey. [1] Subsequent research has suggested that these mirror neurons may help us choose an appropriate response to behaviors that we observe. [2]

Rizzolatti’s discovery has spawned scores of research regarding the applications of behavior mirroring. One interesting study was highlighted in a article that is titled, ”Mirroring” Might Reflect Badly On You. [3] In this study, Piotr Winkielman and his team contrived various experiments where observers evaluated an interviewee on characteristics such as general competence, trustworthiness and likability. In some experiments, the interviewee mimicked the interviewer and in some they did not. As a result of this study, they concluded that:

“It is not merely interacting with negatively perceived people that has a social cost; you pay a price for aligning with them through body language.” [3]

Personal Branding Defined

Kaplan Mobray, in his book The 10Ks of Personal Branding defines personal branding as:

The ability to deliberately use attributes that demonstrate your capability to manage the expectations one will receive from an encounter with you. [4]

If you contrast the lessons learned from Winkielman’s study on mirroring with Mobray’s definition of branding, it becomes quite clear that the proactive choice is to control the frame [5] of each and every important encounter. The default posture is to emulate the moods and body language of those around us. To take the road less traveled, one must intentionally exude a sense of purpose and a sense of destiny. Once a person has worked through these life questions for themselves, it will be apparent to others. Your body language will also be congruent as well, and it is highly likely that others will start to mirror you.

To remind myself of these principles, I keep the following quote near my desk:

“People are buying only one thing from you: the way the engagement (hiring you, working with you, dating you, using your product or service, learning from you) makes them feel.” – Seth Godin





[4] Book: The 10Ks of Personal Branding