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Two Ways to Stop a Discussion Mutating Into an Argument

1 Aug 2015

Two Ways to Stop a Discussion Mutating Into an Argument

Rapport Is Essential

James and Linda were part of a group having a discussion about how to tackle a project in which they were all involved. Within a few minutes, these two people, who’d got along just fine until then, got out of rapport. The discussion quickly escalated into a raging argument that left their colleagues awestruck and speechless.

Two Ways to Stop a Discussion Mutating Into an Argument


This argument could most likely have been prevented if they’d stayed in rapport.

What exactly is rapport anyway?

Evidently, the English didn’t consider rapport particularly important, so didn’t bother allocating it an English word 😉 Once they realised it was important, they simply stole the French word! Because it’s a French word, the ‘t’ on the end of the word is silent.

Essential for good Communication

When you have rapport with others, there’s a feeling of connection, it’s clear that you’re seeing eye-to-eye or that you’re tuned in to the same wavelength. With rapport comes trust.

And with trust comes a willingness to listen and understand.

Research has shown that when people have rapport with each other they are more likely to take up suggestions and be influenced by one another, than when there is no rapport. So really, rapport is vital to good communication.

And yet few people know how to do it

Well, isn’t rapport just natural – you either have it or you don’t?

Well yes … and no!
Often when you’re getting to know someone or you like someone, rapport becomes a natural part of your behaviour. It seems so natural in fact that it’s completely unconscious.

Which means that, in all likelihood, you don’t actually know how you get rapport.

So why should you bother learning about rapport?

Knowing how to build rapport with the interviewers for your dream job can mean the difference between success – and the dreaded ‘sorry letter’! There may also be times when it’s important for the achievement of your goals to gain rapport with people who you don’t necessarily like or with whom you disagree.

Knowing how to establish (and sometimes re-establish) rapport, as well as being able to discern when rapport is broken, is vital to a successful interaction.

Rapport is like a magic elixir.

Of course any elixir is not really magic. It contains certain secret ingredients in specific quantities that deliver a consistent product. It has a secret recipe. So you’ll be pleased to know that rapport has a secret recipe as well.

Like all good recipes, it can be replicated time and time again. By learning the recipe you can make a conscious decision about rapport. So if you notice you don’t have rapport and it’s important that you gain it, you’ll know exactly what to do.

The secret recipe for rapport is unbelievable!

Honestly, you probably won’t believe what I’m going to tell you shortly. It will seem strange and unnatural. I know because that’s the reaction I get from people on my training courses. A few minutes before I start to teach them the structure of rapport they will have completed an exercise in which they gained rapport completely naturally.

Yet, when I break down the structure of rapport and have them practice each part consciously, they say it feels ‘unnatural.’

It feels ‘unnatural’ because they’ve become conscious of what they were previously doing unconsciously.

Watch others ‘doing rapport’ first.

So, rather than just taking my word for what’s about to follow, watch other people who are in rapport so you can prove to yourself, what I’m about to tell you. Because when you begin to achieve rapport consciously, it’ll feel strange and uncomfortable. It’ll feel strange and uncomfortable because you’ll be aware of each aspect of it. In this article I’ll share two of main ingredients, two of the most important elements you need.

So what is the structure of rapport?

1. Body posture
To establish and maintain rapport you should mirror the other persons’ non-verbal language. Mirroring means that you look like a mirror image of the other person. So if you’re sitting opposite someone who has their left elbow resting on the arm of their chair, you would have your right arm resting on the arm of your chair. If their right leg is stretched out in front, you would have your left leg out in front. You get the idea…

A slight side track…

In the 1980’s, scientists found neurons in the brain which are responsible for our natural ‘mirroring’. If fact they’ve called them mirror neurons. Primates and some birds have them too. The psychology behind this, is that we like people who are like us. So by mirroring the behaviour of others, you make yourself like the other person and thus more ‘likeable’ (although I’m sure you’re already a gorgeous and delightful human being!)

Back on track

In any case, go somewhere where there are people who are getting along and watch them mirroring each other. Or, if you’re the curious, brave type, just go right ahead and try this out for yourself. You can mirror a change in posture as it happens, or do it over the next minute or so if it makes you feel more comfortable. Just remember to keep on listening!

2. Gestures and facial expressions
You might have noticed yourself perhaps scratching your nose at the same time (or slightly after) the person you’re with scratches theirs, even though your nose didn’t even itch. Or, you’ll find you’re screwing up your nose as a friend is describing something she found disgusting. You’ve been doing it naturally. Mirroring peoples gestures and facial expressions is yet another way to get rapport. Use the same gestures (although less pronounced) when you respond, as the other person used when they spoke to you.

It sounds weird!

Yes, I know. So go and watch people! You’ll see this happening all the time! Once you’ve convinced yourself of it, you’ll realise that you do it as well.

So how can rapport prevent discussions mutating into arguments?

So glad you reminded me!

Here’s what happens immediately prior to a typical argument

You hear something you don’t like. You close off your body. Or make some facial expression indicating your disagreement. In other words, you physically get out of rapport. This usually happens automatically, unless you’ve trained yourself otherwise.

Shutting off your body effectively shuts off your listening ability at the same time.

You say something back in response, but physically you’re already out of rapport. The other person responds by closing off their body and they also stop listening. Sure, you can hear each other. But we all know there’s a big difference between hearing and listening.

Talk to the hand!

You both continue talking, often at the same time. But no-one is listening any more. You’re basically both just talking to yourselves. Or you’re each waiting for the other to shut their cake hole so you can have a say!

Your body responds first

When you hear something you don’t agree with, your body will respond first by physically getting out of rapport with the other person. You may turn away, make a face, fold your arms, take an aggressive posture or somehow ‘close off’ your body. When you close off your body, you also close off your ears. In other words you stop listening. These are usually automatic responses.

Now you can change this

You need do this no more. Because now you know more ?. If you stay in rapport physically, your ears will open again and you’ll be able to actually hear what’s being said. And your willingness and ability to remain in physical rapport, effectively disarms the other person’s inability to listen. You’ll begin hearing each other again, making it much easier to reconnect and resolve any disagreements. And you’ll avoid the type of raging argument that befell James and Linda.

  • Rapport is essential for good communication and builds trust.
  • Most people build rapport unconsciously.
  • When you disagree, your body displays the disagreement first.
  • You can consciously build and maintain rapport.
  • Rapport has a structure or a recipe that can be learned and replicated.
  • Mirroring body posture will help you get rapport.
  • Mirroring gestures and facial expressions will also facilitate rapport.
  • Staying in physical rapport while disagreeing will prevent it escalating into an argument.
What do you want to do now?