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The Power of Rapport

career & business leadership & impact love & relationships Oct 20, 2019

Have you ever noticed how groups of people who are comfortable with each other and enjoy being together tend to behave in a synchronized way? They tend to talk, sit or stand, and even gesture in a similar manner. These actions are not deliberate- they happen at the unconscious level once they have entered the state of rapport.

When you build rapport with someone, you are creating an instant connection which can lead to a stronger, lasting relationship.

How do you build rapport with those around you? 

Rapport is an extraordinary tool to consciously and unconsciously form personal connections. We all create rapport automatically in certain interactions. For example, when speaking with a small child we tend to bend down and use simpler language. Or, when we are comforting someone who is sad or grieving, we tend to speak more softly and breathe more deeply. We are able to naturally get into synch with others.

Building rapport is critical in business. No matter what you do, the ability to establish, develop and maintain rapport with people can help you to build trust and engage your team and customers on a human level where a deeper connection can occur.

Rapport is the ultimate tool for producing results with other people. No matter what you want in your life, if you can develop rapport with the right people, you’ll be able to fill their needs, and they will be able to fill yours.

– Tony Robbins

Being in a state of rapport with someone allows you to see the world from their perspective and understand their needs, so that you can better support them. For example, as an executive coach, I build rapport with clients right away so they feel a sense of comfort and can speak more openly about their issue or problem.

Anyone who is excellent in sales understands that building rapport with clients and making a true connection is essential. Rapport is also important in a team environment to lessen the potential of interpersonal conflict. It leads to greater trust and openness, where people are more receptive to feedback and more likely to share their own feedback back to you.

The same principle applies to building rapport with members of your family or community. For example, if I want my daughters to listen to my suggestions about something, I first get into a state of rapport with them so that they feel more comfortable and open to listening. It allows me to connect with how they feel so that I can better understand their perspective. Bottom line, good rapport is the basis of effective communication in business and the rest of your life.

The typical way in which people build rapport is by asking questions to look for things they have in common with others. We ask questions like, “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?”. However, our words make up only 7% of how we communicate. Ninety-three percent of communication is non-verbal. Most communication happens outside of your conscious awareness.

The basis of rapport is that when people are like each other, they like each other. Most people tend to gravitate towards people who are like them, or like who they want to be. When people are not like each other, they do not like each other. Therefore, a great way to create instant rapport and connection is to match and mirror people we meet.

Matching and Mirroring are two techniques from Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) that are used to gain rapport at the unconscious level. They allow you to become like the person with whom you need to make a connection.

Here are five tips to help you match and mirror others to make an instant connection:

1. Match or mirror the other person’s body language: You can build rapport through mirroring the other person’s physiology, including their posture, facial expressions, hand gestures, tilt of the head, blinking, and even the pace and location of their breathing. Doing so will cause their unconscious mind to feel that you are like them, which builds trust. It is undeniable to their nervous system.

Matching another person physically is powerful, but it must be done in a subtle way. For example, if the person you are speaking with sits or stands up straight with their shoulders back, straighten your own posture a bit. If they tend to lean slightly sideways, you can do that as well. If they tend to keep their hands very still, keep your own gestures to a minimum. If they nod or smile as they speak, nod along or smile with them. If you notice that someone breathes very quickly, pace your own breathing to match. An effective way to match someone’s breathing is by breathing out as they talk. This works because people tend to breathe out as they speak.

The key is to be discreet. You may sometimes even wait a few moments before shifting your physiology in response to the other person’s movements. It is recommended that you start practicing matching or mirroring only one or two physical expressions at a time until you get more comfortable. For instance, focus only on someone’s posture at first. When you feel comfortable with that, practice matching or mirroring hand gestures and facial expressions as well.

2. Match the other person’s tone of voice: You can also match someone’s tone, tempo, timbre (quality of the voice), and the volume of voice to quickly connect with others. For example, if the person you are with speaks in a slow monotone voice, slow your own speech down and use less inflection than perhaps you normally would. If the other person speaks softly, lower your own volume. If they speak in a higher pitch, adjust your own voice pitch to be slightly higher.

3. Match the other person’s predicates: People express themselves in their “preferred representational system.” They tend to be visual, auditory, or kinesthetic (seeing, hearing, or feeling). People with a visual preference might say, “I see what you’re saying” whereas an auditory person might say, “I hear you” and a kinesthetic person might say, “That feels right.” Once you figure out what their primary expression is- seeing, hearing, or feeling- start to incorporate that type of language into the conversation to build instant rapport and trust.

4. Match the other person’s “chunk size”: Another way to build rapport is to match their level of abstraction (in NLP, we call that “chunk size”). For instance, if the person you are communicating with tends to speak more in “big picture”, stay at that level of abstraction rather than focusing on details. On the other hand, if you are speaking with someone who seems to be focused on specific details, make sure you are matching that by staying at that lower “chuck level”. Otherwise, they may feel uncomfortable with you because you are not giving them enough information.

5. Match the other person’s key words: Many of us learned to be “active listeners” and to paraphrase back what others say to demonstrate that we understand. For instance, if someone says, “I feel frustrated”, we may respond by reflecting back “You feel upset”. However, it is always best to use the other person’s exact words because those words have a specific meaning to them. When you use a different vocabulary, you may be limiting your level of rapport and connection. On the other hand, when you repeat back the other person’s exact words, they will feel more comfortable and will therefore be more likely to accept your suggestions.

I invite you to practice these skills with a friend or family member. It may feel a bit uncomfortable at first, but you will soon experience the difference that it can make in the quality of your conversations and relationships. People tend to like and trust people who are like themselves. By using these matching and mirroring techniques to build rapport, you can strengthen the connection between you and others.

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