Synchrony and working together

Synchrony and working together

Synchrony, people synchronising their movements, is at the heart of team sports like rowing, where the team works as one. But allowing yourself to fall in line with others can even work when you’re competing against them – and is even useful outside of sport.

Synchrony is a natural tendency of all of us. Think about walking with a friend, or following a guide, where our steps naturally fall in line with each other’s. It’s this tendency that team sports like rowing, or even synchronised swimming, use to their advantage.

Once the techniques of the sport have been practiced they will start to form part of that person’s muscle memory. It is as the technique becomes increasingly unconscious that the person is able to find the relaxed mental state where they will also subconsciously fall into synchrony with other team members. Where newcomers to such sports often struggle is in attempting to be consciously in time with others whilst still having to consciously think through and control their rowing or swimming.

Synchrony can also be useful in individual sports, such as running. Even when we’re directly competing against others our pace can still fall into line with theirs. This isn’t the disadvantage that you might at first think though. Studies have shown that it’s actually more efficient than consciously varying our pace. The reasons for this are tied into its development in people who play in team sports like rowing. If you’re naturally falling into the same pace as a competitor than you’re allowing your subconscious self to use it’s abilities without conscious interference.

Our natural tendency to synchrony partly comes from our evolution as social animals. We want to be part of a larger group, and allowing our actions to coincide with those of other people around us is a natural expression of that. It’s also been shown that experiencing synchronised movement as part of a group is good for our mental well-being. Think of the people coming together in parks to practice Tai Chi in the early morning, and you might appreciate the appeal of this shared activity.

The feeling of belonging and wellbeing that comes with experiencing synchrony can also be useful outside of sport and recreation. One of the techniques taught to people who want to develop rapport with others is that of ‘mirroring’. Mirroring is picking up on and copying another person’s stance, body language or gestures. Again this is something that we do naturally, and often in relationships where we wish to appease or win the confidence of the other person.

However mirroring can be done consciously as well, and can help to accelerate building rapport or a relationship. One with consciously mirroring others though is that you can focus your attention on noticing and replicating the other person’s gestures. This can stop people from actually listening effectively to what the other person is saying, undermining any effort to build rapport. It can also result in the very obvious copying of the other person, which can leave them feeling uncomfortable, or even mocked. Again this undermines any efforts at building rapport.

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