J’Adore Rapport

Think of a time when you were out on a first date with a person you really liked…. at some point you probably started picking up your wine glass at the same time as the person across the table……you felt like you were made for each other as you shared so many common experiences…. and you felt like you’d known them forever as you started to finish each other sentences and use the same phrases.  Many people think of rapport in terms of an actor holding the attention of an audience, a teacher connecting with a class or, as in that example, in relation to attraction.  Rapport is a very commonly used term and often the first technique you learn when studying NLP, but what does it actually mean, how do you build it and what does it get you?

Rapport is defined from the psychology perspective as a sympathetic or harmonious relationship or state of mutual understanding or more generally as a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.   In NLP we define rapport as a process of communicating with someone’s unconscious mind, by matching and mirroring, so that they accept, uncritically, the suggestions you give them.   Rapport isn’t new to any of us, we’ve all built rapport unconsciously numerous times, but you simply weren’t conscious of what you were doing.

Rapport creates an unconscious connection between two people and is critical for effective, respectful and mutually influential communication.  Rapport is commonality of perspective that gives you the feeling of being in-sync with or on the same wavelength as the person with whom you are talking – be that face to face or on the phone.  Excellent sales people strive to build rapport with new customers and maintain it with established ones.  Managers can build rapport with their teams to create a trusting environment to perhaps increase job longevity.  A presenter will build rapport with their audience to keep them connected to their presentation and for them to absorb and remember their key messages.  Alliance Managers will work on building rapport between the key decision makers from the partnering companies to maximize the possibility of a successful collaboration. 

The basis of rapport is that when people are like each other, they like each other – rapport is a process of responsiveness, but not necessarily actually liking.  Rapport is based on matching and mirroring one another i.e. getting into rhythm with the other person on as many levels as possible.   Subtle matching (you raise your left hand and I raise my left hand) and mirroring (I raise my left hand and you raise your right hand) can be physical via posture, it may be through matching qualities of the other persons voice, and it can be through the words you use.  Matching and mirroring is a subtle process – direct overzealous imitation would be both obvious and seen as mockery. 

PHYSIOLOGY – physically there are a host of different things you can match and mirror when building rapport – you can match the other persons overall posture, their facial expression, their gestures and their blinking.  In addition you can match the rate at which they breathe – remember a person is usually breathing out when they are speaking.  The greatest impact comes from matching breathing and spine angle – if your spine angle is the same then generally the rest of your body will fall into place to mirror the other persons overall posture. 

VOICE – matching someone’s voice is especially important when you are communicating by phone.  You can match the tone or pitch of the voice, the speed at which someone talks, the timbre or quality of the voice and of course how loud they speak.  In my old job I used to be called by numerous sales people every week.  I tend to speak very quickly, even from the first hello, and it used to frustrate me if the person on the other end of the line didn’t match that speed and sense of urgency to get their message across.  The ones that did got a few minutes to see if they had services that interested us, the others simply didn’t.

WORDS – if you listen to someone’s speech you can often pick up key words that they like to use repeatedly or little phrases which you can then repeat back to them in what you say at opportune moments.  In your words you can also match common experiences and associations.  You can also match whether they talk about the big picture or minute details. 

So get out there and try it out – when you achieve rapport you’ll know.  Build rapport with interviewers and you are more likely to land that job you want, build rapport with potential customers and you’ll have more chance of making the sale, build rapport with your boss before you sell him your latest, greatest idea, or build rapport with your audiences and your presentation will achieve the outcome you want.

© Jacqui Gatehouse and NLP THIRTEEN, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jacqui Gatehouse and NLP THIRTEEN with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


14 responses to “J’Adore Rapport

  1. Great post! I find rapport to be the single most useful tool in the portfolio of NLP techniques. Which is why, as you wrote, its one of the first things you learn in NLP. I use it for most conversations I have, especially with people I just met. In your opinion, what is the most effective thing to match or mirror to build strong rapport with someone?

    • Thanks Alex, glad you liked it – had a lot of fun writing that one. But then again I have fun writing all this stuff. So what do I find the most effective thing to match and mirror – you know I think it comes back to flexibility and using whatever I feel is appropriate in the specific situation. That often depends on how much you can see of the other persons body and what sort of level of rapport you’re aiming to achieve. For example, if I’m sitting across a table from someone then usually I’d say it’s a combination of breathing and sitting at a similar angle to them in my chair – whether they’re sitting forward and leaning on the table or leaning back – arms on the table or down on the arms of the chair etc. Sitting directly across from someone it can be hard to replicate breathing patterns as of course you see that easiest from your peripheral vision, out of the corner of your eye. So if you can’t match that then sitting position is the next best thing. There again if I’m working with a very auditory person then I may feel that matching key words or phrases has more impact in building signifcant rapport than physical matching and mirroring – there again, even in that situation, I’ll be very careful not to accidentally break rapport by making the wrong move.

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