The easy way to achieve rapport

RapportIn the Rapport 101 article we found that studies suggest that three elements have to be present for rapport to be possible:

  • mutual attention – where each person is tuning in to the other
  • shared positive feeling, and
  • synchrony – where people unconsciously respond to each others’ movements and gestures

When someone meets you for the first time, their first impression of you is determined not just by how you look and act, but by their pre-existing emotional state and expectations.

Depending on what these are, they could be regarding you as a threat (if they are scared or apprehensive), as as ‘prey’ or just an instrument to help them achieve whatever goal they have in mind (if they are very task-focused), or as another human being they can communicate with. And at an unconscious level, you will also be bringing one of these expectations to the meeting.

So to get the right kind of mutual attention, the kind that makes human-to-human communication possible, you first need to make sure that you are in a positive, resourceful state, and make sure that you are regarding the other person as a human being that you can communicate with, rather than a threat or an instrument. Otherwise, it’s easy to ‘lose your head’ so you respond unthinkingly and act like a threat, or to just go along with what the other person wants and forget your own interests.

At the same time you need to pay attention to the other person and notice not just their words but what their emotional state seems to be, so you are ready to respond appropriately and resourcefully to whatever they do or say.

Once you are in a resourceful state and you are paying attention to the other person, you can create the ‘synchrony’ element of rapport deliberately through process called matching – physically matching the  body language of the other person.People like people who are like them.

Mirroring in NLP: as the name suggests, this is matching someone as if you were their mirror-image. This can lead to deeper feelings of rapport than non-symmetrical matching.

Things you can match:

  • Body posture: You’ll notice other people doing this unconsciously. However, use with care! People don’t like to be mimicked. Matching the angle of the spine works well and is not obvious.
  • Breathing: Breathing has a rhythm, which you can match. It also can be deep or shallow, and people can breathe from the chest or the abdomen.
  • Voice tone: Including volume, speed, tonality, and speech rhythms. Accent is probably best left alone!

You can also notice what representational system they are thinking in and match that.

And you can listen to metaphors they are using and match those. If a manager talks about ‘the workers at the coal face’, she’s not talking about a literal coal face – unless she’s in the mining industry. It’s a metaphor. If she uses a phrase consistent with that mining metaphor more than once – maybe talking about ‘hitting the motherlode’ or ‘hacking away at a problem’, then if it’s appropriate, it certainly won’t hurt to talk about ‘equipping people with better tools’ or ‘working away below the surface’.

This is not to say that you should deliberately copy every movement of the other person – in fact, if you copy them too obviously, they will almost certainly notice and break rapport, as the studies mentioned above also found. In fact, there are times when you definitely won’t want to match another person too closely. You know the way that some men sit with their legs very wide apart, as if they were Viz Comic’s Buster Gonad (NSFW!)? Ladies, you probably wouldn’t want to match that posture exactly. Or if you were a doctor treating a patient with asthma, you wouldn’t want to exactly match the patient’s breathing as that would be reproducing the symptoms.

So – how can you match and mirror someone in a more subtle way so they don’t notice what you are doing, because that would usually break rapport? You can use something called ‘crossover matching’ – matching someone’s gestures with a different part of your body. People do things they are almost unaware of – scratching their chin, flicking their hair, crossing their legs – and you can match this subtly by some equally natural-looking movement like tapping a pencil or jiggling your foot.

Crossover matching will be much less obvious and clunky than trying to match someone’s whole posture and movements. If you want to make it less obvious still, you can change the action that you’re cross-matching with every minute or so; for example, you could start off matching the rhythm of someone fidgeting in a chair with tapping your foot, and then switch to tapping your finger.

Crossover matching can also be useful when it’s not appropriate to match someone exactly. If you’re a woman talking to a man who is sitting with his legs wide apart, you could open the posture of your upper body a bit without sending the wrong message. And I’ve heard of doctors matching the breathing rhythms of someone with asthma by tapping a pen. They’re still matching the rhythms of the other person, but without having to reproduce the asthma symptoms in their own breathing.

Cross-matching feels natural and easy, and human beings do it pretty much from day one. Daniel Stern, a psychiatrist who has videotaped thousands of hours of mother-baby interactions, could pretty much tell from a few minutes observation which infants are well-adjusted and which ones are going to grow up troubled. Typically, when a baby smiles, the mother may coo at him; when the baby shakes a rattle, the mum gives him a little shimmy; when the baby gurgles, the mother speaks to him in ‘motherese’ – the baby talk that has a similar pitch and rhythm in every language the world over. In other words, when the baby does something, she responds to it; not necessarily by mirroring the exact same action, but there is a response. The overall message to the baby is “Yes, I notice you; I’m here.” So the baby will feel safe and appreciated.

So responding to the other person is vital to rapport – though the ‘responsiveness’ element has not been emphasised nearly as much as physical matching in most “classic” NLP books. When we respond to another person they feel heard and validated.

Part of responsiveness is that you match (or cross-match) people’s gestures at the appropriate time – for example, you don’t match their gestures while they are talking!

Non-verbal rapport the easy way

Consciously noticing all the things that you could match, and keeping on top of matching them subtly, probably wouldn’t leave much attention left over to follow the content of what another person is saying. So here’s how to achieve rapport the easy way.

Imagine the person is being driven by a big flywheel rotating inside them. The faster the wheel turns, the more animated their gestures will be, the straighter they will stand, the louder and probably higher-pitched their voice will be. Just ask yourself: “What speed is this person running at?” – and match it yourself. As long as you are paying attention to the person, you can let your unconscious mind do the rest.

How do you know when you have rapport?

  1. You’ll feel it. You will literally get a warm feeling – it’s a physiological sign of relaxation. Or you will get a sense of being at one with the other person. Conversely, if you lose rapport, or put a foot wrong, you’ll feel uncomfortable. We’ve all had that experience. But you can just do some more matching and get back into rapport again.
  2. Skin colour changes. When people feel relaxed, capillaries in the skin dilate so the skin appears darker (in dark-skinned people) or pinker (in light-skinned people). This is also where the warm feeling comes from.
  3. The other person may tell you. They may say something like “I feel like I have known you for ages” or “I’ve never told anyone this before, but…

The final sign that you have rapport is something that in NLP we call ‘pacing and leading’, which we’ll deal with in an upcoming article.

Image by coliniera2/

© 2013 – 2019, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.

1 comment

  1. Steve Cowie

    Nice overview, eh readers?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.