The importance of rapport
Two men, let’s call them Bob and Jim, were having an extremely heated discussion in my meeting room. I asked Jim to leave the room with me for a few minutes while I whispered a little French word into his ear. Then we both went back into the room.
Within minutes the tone changed, Bob and Jim started listening to each other again and within 20 minutes a solution had been reached that both men were happy about.
So what changed?
When I took Jim outside I reminded him of the importance of rapport. Jim had done a short course with me previously where he’d learned about rapport. Bob, his work colleague had not had the same opportunity. Yet, in the heat of the moment – a time when it’s most needed – Jim had seemingly forgotten about the importance of rapport.
What is rapport?
The word ‘rapport’ is French in origin (from rapporter, meaning to bring back) and we don’t have an English equivalent. Rapport is the sense of mutual understanding, being tuned into the same wavelength or having a feeling of connection with someone. It’s often thought of as some kind of mysterious or obscure ‘thing’ that’s somewhat inexplicable and illusive. Perhaps this is why many people believe that you either have rapport or you don’t.
Why is rapport important?
Rapport is important because it creates a basis of trust and understanding. From this basis, influence is possible. Put bluntly, if there’s no rapport, then there’s no trust and definitely no influence occurring. In this respect being able to build rapport enhances your emotional intelligence and people skills.
Rapport isn’t something that occurs willy-nilly
Rapport has a structure.
The early developers of NLP watched, listened to and recorded successful influencers; people like Virginia Satir, widely regarded as the ‘mother’ of family therapy, and Milton Erickson (a psychiatrist specialising in hypnosis), to find out what made them so effective in helping people change destructive or unwanted behaviours.
They found that there were specific things that both these people did that resulted in deep levels of rapport with their clients and contributed to speedy and effective change. Then they tested these findings out for themselves and with others. They found that what we do as humans to achieve rapport, while often unconscious, is nonetheless universal.
Have you ever noticed any of these situations?
- While engaged in a deep conversation you touch your nose and notice that the other person touches their nose virtually at the same time?
- You’re enjoying a drink with a friend and notice that you both pick up your cups/glasses and drink simultaneously, like mirror images of each other?
- Your breathing seems to be synchronised?
- You accurately finish each other sentences?
These are signs of rapport
You probably don’t sit with someone and deliberately do these things. They just happen unconsciously and then you notice them.
The opposite is also true
When you’re out of rapport with another person your respective body positions will be completely different. It’s as if, when you hear something you don’t want to hear, you shut off your body.
Shutting off your body effectively closes your ears as well!
When you see this occurring in someone you’re talking to, take it as an indication that you’ve said something with which they disagree. Until you get back in rapport, you might just as well talk to the wall, because you’ll get as much positive response!
The Mind – Body connection
Your mind and your body are connected – thank goodness! Whatever you think will show up somewhere in your non-verbal or body-language. Spooky eh? Most people aren’t very good at picking up these subtle clues – not consciously anyway. Others are more perceptive but don’t know how they do it or what to make of what they’re picking up (unless they’ve learnt NLP of course).
Closed Mind = Closed Body
Because mind and body are connected, when you close your mind, you will also close your body. And then you’ll be out of rapport. This is a critical factor because you might notice yourself closing your body as you’re listening.
How do you close your body?
You close your body by folding your arms, crossing your legs, turning away and/or closing your eyes. Or all of these things! Your ears can still hear, but once you close your body the input all sounds like blah, blah, blah. Generally, if you have an open mind, you’ll also have an open body posture and open ears.
What’s the cure?
The cure for a closed mind is an open body.
Unfold your arms, uncross your legs and face the speaker. Instead of thinking of your ‘influence plan B’, open your eyes and give the speaker your full attention. You’ll begin hearing again. Just like magic.
Now start ‘mirroring’
Mirroring it what you were doing unconsciously before you got out of rapport. Mirror the other persons body position, angle of the spine, level of eye contact etc. For example if you’re sitting opposite someone who has their left leg stretched out in front, you extend your right leg so you look like their mirror image (somewhat!) If they change position, you continue to mirror, subtly changing your own posture.
Why does this work?
It’s said that we like people who are like us. By mirroring the person you’re in conversation with you make yourself like the other person 😉
It feels phoney
Many people who attend my courses, tell me they feel phoney when they do this deliberately. Yet before they learnt about it, they were doing it completely unconsciously. By making a deliberate, conscious effort they gain an ability to have control over their own behaviours, that they didn’t have before.
Does this sound unbelievable?
It does to most people who haven’t tried it. They can’t believe that mirroring another persons body position will help resolve what can seem like deadlock.
But that’s exactly what Jim did.
Jim came back in and got back in non-verbal rapport with Bob. And he made sure that, even if he didn’t agree with what Bob was saying, he continued to mirror his non-verbal language.
Non-verbal language plays a much greater role in overall communication than anything you say verbally.
So it wasn’t long before they were both listening to each other and working diligently to find ways to meet both their needs.