By Roger Ellerton Phd, ISP, CMC, Renewal Technologies Inc. www.renewal.ca
Rapport is the foundation for any meaningful interaction between two or more people – be it related to sales, negotiation, providing information or directions to a co-worker, subordinate or boss, a conversation with a family member, training, coaching, … .
Rapport can be explained in a number of ways. For me, rapport is about establishing an environment of trust, understanding, respect and safety, which gives a person the freedom to fully express their ideas and concerns and to know that they will be respected by the other person(s). Rapport creates the space for the person to feel listened to, and heard and it doesn’t mean that they have to agree with what the other person says or does. Each of person appreciates the other’s viewpoint and respects their model of the world.
When you are in rapport with another person, you have the opportunity to enter their world and see things from their perspective, feel the way they do, get a better understanding of where they are coming from; and as a result, enhance the whole relationship.
What would we observe about people who are in rapport?
Have you noticed that when people enjoy being with each other, they have a tendency to use the same words or phrases, or dress in a similar way or have matching body language? For example, observe a group of teenagers who are friends and notice the similarities in their clothing, their choice of words and how they walk or sit.
Have you noticed that people who are not in rapport have different postures, gestures, voice tonality or don’t make eye contact? Ever had an opportunity to observe someone (or yourself) who did not want to attend a meeting or who did not trust the other people at the meeting? Did you notice a difference in their body language, voice tonality, where they sat, etc. compared to the others in the meeting?
Next time you are in a restaurant or at a reception, look around and you will discover people who are enjoying each other’s company exhibiting similar postures, gestures and voice tonality.
The above illustrates – the more we like the other person, the more we choose to be like the other person.
For another perspective on rapport, consider the following:
Have you ever been a long way from home and met someone, whom you have never seen before, and discovered they are from your own hometown or went to the same University that you did or that you are both interested in the same sport, or both enjoy the same type of music? What happens? Before long, you are in a very animated conversation, looking for experiences in common – i.e. have you ever eaten at this restaurant, or have you golfed at …, or did you hear the latest song by … .
On the other hand, have you ever gone to a party or event for which the dress was formal and you thought it was casual? Or have you been to a restaurant and everybody at your table has been served their food but you? How did you feel? Out of place? Not belonging? Not like the other people?
This illustrates the concept – the more we are like the other person (or the more we have in common), the more we like the other person.
Rapport is critical for all you do in business, at home or at play.
The key to establishing rapport is an ability to enter another person’s world by assuming a similar state of mind. The first thing to do is to become more like the other person by matching and mirroring the person’s behaviours — body language, voice, words etc. Matching and mirroring is a powerful way of getting an appreciation of how the other person is seeing/experiencing the world (this is called second position – the subject of a latter article on perceptual positions).
The terms matching and mirroring are used interchangeably by some NLP practitioners, while others draw the following distinctions:
Mirroring is as if you were looking into a mirror. To mirror a person who has raised his right hand, you would raise your left hand (i.e. mirror image). To match this same person, you would raise your right-hand (doing exactly the same as the other person). Some practitioners see a time difference between mirroring and matching. For example, if someone makes hand gestures while they are speaking, you would wait until it was your turn to speak before making similar (matching) hand gestures.
I do not draw a big distinction between the two and will refer to matching and mirroring as matching.
When matching, you should first focus on body language, then voice and finally the person’s words. Why? Mehrabian and Ferris (‘Inference of Attitudes from Nonverbal Communication in Two Channels’, Journal of Counselling Psychology, Vol. 31, 1967, pp. 248-52) discovered that 55 percent of the impact of a presentation is determined by your body language, 38 percent by your voice and only 7 percent by the content or words that you use.
Body language includes body posture, facial expressions, hand gestures, breathing and eye contact. As a beginner, start by matching one specific behaviour and once you are comfortable doing that, then match another and so on.
For voice, you can match tonality, speed, volume, rhythm and clarity of speech. All of us can vary various aspects of our voice and we have a range in which we feel comfortable. If someone speaks very fast, much faster than you do and at a rate at which you would not feel comfortable; match this person by speaking faster, while staying within a range that is comfortable for you.
For words, match predicates. If your partner is using mainly visual words, you should also use mainly visual words and similarly for auditory, kinesthetic and auditory digital words. To the extent possible, you should also use the same words as the other person. For example, I may say something is ‘awesome’. In your model of the world, you may interpret ‘awesome’ as ‘outstanding’ and use this word when speaking to me. For me ‘outstanding’ may have a different meaning or evoke a different feeling than ‘awesome’. In this case, you would not be matching but mismatching my words.
Some people find the idea of matching another person uncomfortable and they feel that they are trying to fool or take advantage of the other person. To overcome this uneasiness, realize that matching is a natural part of the rapport building process and that you are doing it unconsciously every day with your close family and friends. Each day gradually increase your conscious use of matching at a pace that is comfortable and ethical for you. Matching done with integrity and respect creates positive feelings and responses in you and others. Rapport is the ability to enter someone else’s world, to make him feel you understand him, and that there is a strong connection between the two of you.
Cross-Over Matching and Mismatching
Cross-over matching is where you match one of the other person’s behaviours with a corresponding, but different movement. If a person’s breathing pattern is a lot faster or slower than what would be comfortable for you to match, you can match the same rhythm of breathing by a rocking motion of your body, or by moving your foot or finger at the same pace. Cross-over matching is useful if you wish to establish rapport with someone who is in a very unresourceful state (depression) and you do not wish to take on that state – remember from the NLP Communication Model, your physiology influences your thoughts and hence your state.
Mismatching is a useful skill to master. Sometimes, you are too deep in rapport with another person to make a decision without the other person overly influencing you. In this case, you need to break rapport to get some space to think. To do this, you mismatch. This can be done in a variety of ways. You can break eye contact by looking at your watch or brushing an imaginary piece of fluff off your arm. If you are both sitting, you can stand up. You may choose to mismatch with your voice by speaking faster or louder or you may mismatch predicates.
You may wish to start with family members and begin to match different aspects of their posture, gestures, voice and words. Have fun with it and see if they notice what you are doing. At work or socially, start by matching one specific behaviour and once you are comfortable doing that, then match another. For friends with whom you really feel comfortable, notice how often you naturally match their postures, gestures tone of voice or words. Matching comes naturally, what you need to do is learn how to do it with everyone, then matching will become automatic whenever you wish to deepen your rapport with someone.
And NLP is Much more than that!
Author: Roger Ellerton is a certified NLP trainer, certified management consultant and the founder and managing partner of Renewal Technologies. He can be reached at Renewal Technologies www.renewal.ca. The above article is an extract from his book Live Your Dreams – Let Reality Catch Up: NLP and Common Sense for Coaches, Managers and You.