Have you ever had a conversation with someone that didn’t feel right? Perhaps they looked the other way, checked their phone or carried on typing into a computer when you were talking to them.
If this has ever happened, you weren’t being listened to and certainly weren’t in rapport.
Think about an athlete before they start a competition. They spend time warming up beforehand. It’s the same with race car drivers, they rev their engine on the starting block. Orchestras do the same thing, they tune their instruments before preparing to play.
It’s the same with a conversation. Look to build rapport before launching into a full-on meeting or conversation with others. Before you can sell anything, lead, manage or work with other people effectively, you must first establish rapport. WHY?
- People don’t buy from people if they aren’t in rapport.
- Teams don’t work well together if they aren’t in rapport.
- It’s hard to sell yourself into a job role if you aren’t in rapport with the interviewers.
- It’s difficult to get a promotion or be recognized for your work if you are not in rapport with.
- You can’t sell your ideas if you aren’t in rapport with others.
If you don’t make a good first impression, it’s very difficult to get the other person to change their mind about you after the fact.
What is rapport?
Rapport is about being on the same wavelength with someone else. It’s showing mutual respect and sharing a common goal or interest. It’s also about having a harmonious relationship with others that enables a greater understanding and more effective communication.
Sometimes rapport happens immediately when you seem to just “hit it off with others” sometimes it is something you have to work at by finding common ground to establish a bond.
When meeting a person for the first time, you will need to “break the ice.” Once you break the ice, you can then have a more relaxed friendly conversation.
1. Break the ice
When you first meet someone, certain formalities and greetings are expected such as a handshake or introductions. These first few minutes are extremely important as first impressions have an impact on how the relationship develops.
- The first secret to building rapport is, you must have a positive attitude towards meeting the other person and leave your prejudices behind. If you don’t, it will show up in your body language and the other person will sense your negativity.
- The second secret to building rapport is to smile with your eyes and not with just your mouth. You instinctively know when a smile is fake. Being friendly with a genuine smile is much more likely to encourage open and honest communications and the building of rapport.
- The third secret to building rapport is to always have a set of conversation starters prepared in case you need them. It might be something topical on the news or non-invasive questions that could open up a conversation. Be careful not to introduce conversation starters that are centered around politics or religion, keep them neutral. By preparing conversation starters before-hand, it will give you topics to expand on, not only to establish rapport, it will help keep you in rapport.
- The fourth secret to getting into rapport is to be observant about the other person and their surroundings for clues about what their interests might be. They may have a photo on the wall of them holding a fish or a photograph of their family. This gives you a segue into talking in terms of their interests.
- The fifth secret is to show empathy. Demonstrate that you are listening to the other person’s point of view by empathizing with them.
- The sixth secret to establishing rapport is to be a good listener. As you start to break the ice, avoid talking too much about yourself instead raise non-threatening safe topics to discuss. It might be the weather or the environment you are meeting in. Effective questioning techniques help to keep a conversation going as you start to get into rapport. Listen to what the other person is saying and look for clues that suggest shared or common experiences.
Be aware that if your body language does not match your verbal message, you will lose credibility and won’t be able to establish rapport.
2. Use your body language
You can establish and maintain rapport subconsciously through your body language such as body positioning, body movements, eye contact, facial expressions and the tone of voice either by matching or mirroring behavior. If you observe two people who are in rapport, you will notice that they sub-consciously mimic each other’s body language.
There are six key steps to building rapport through body language and voice.
Step 1. Matching physiology
Matching a person physiology means matching their body language and movements. This is accomplished by mirroring their movements. For example, if they cross their legs, you would cross your legs. If they lean to one side, you would lean to one side. If they were sitting back and relaxing you would do the same. By mirroring them you are sending them a signal that you are on their side or on their team even if you agree to disagree. It needs to be as natural as possible – if not the other person will feel you are mimicking them.
If your body language is not matched, then this could be a signal that you might not be on the same page as the other person which can hinder a future relationship. This is not always the case, for instance a person might be crossing their arms because it is cold not because you aren’t in rapport. The key is, self-awareness.
Step 2. Matching their voice
You can also build rapport by matching a person’s voice by using a similar tone and speed. For example, if they speak slowly you would also speak slowly. If they speak fast and in an excited manner, you would also speed up the pace at which you would speak and add enthusiasm into your communication. If a person speaks with a high tone or low tone, you would look to match the tone of their voice in addition to the speed and pace at which they speak.
You do need to be careful and make your voice sound natural, if not they may sense insincerity in your speech. Also be careful not to mimic a person who has a different accent from you, chances are they will find this offensive.
Step 3. Matching their breathing
Not only do people breathe at a different rate. People breathe from a different part of their diaphragm. By breathing in and out at the same time and rate, this is another signal that you are in sync with that person.
Step 4. Matching how much information they can handle
Some people process information by needing to know every single little detail. Other people process information by only wanting to know the bigger picture. This is known as chunking up (bigger picture) or chunking down (more details required.)
If you are a big picture person who likes to chunk up it may be challenging to communicate in more detail. Equally, if you chunk down and like to communicate every little bit of information, talking to a person who only likes to get the big picture might also be challenging.
Step 5. Matching common experiences
When you first meet someone, in order to establish rapport, you need to find things you both have in common. It is a very quick way to build rapport. The way to do this is to ask questions about their background, their job, their interests and hobbies.
Step 6. Matching their VAK preferences
VAK stands for Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic preferences.
If a person’s VAK preference is visual, you can match their preference by using visual language. This is the same for people who prefer to communicate using auditory or kinaesthetic language. When they talk, you will receive clues as to what their VAK preference is. For instance, a visual person eye patterns will go to the top of their eye socket, an auditory person’s eye patterns will go from side to side and a kinaesthetic person’s eye patterns will generally point downwards. The words they use will also give you a clue as to their VAK preferences.
When you are looking to build rapport, it is important to remember that when you are using these matching and mirroring tools you must be subtle and seem natural to the other person.
3. Maintain rapport
Why some people excel in business often comes down to how well they relate to others. You can increase the quality of your interactions through a process called modelling the behavior of others. When you are in rapport with someone, it is as if you are one.
Pacing is essential to establishing and maintaining rapport. It is achieved by using the others person’s behaviors by matching your verbal and non-verbal behaviors with the other person. As people communicate in a systemic way, you should be able to pick up on their behaviors and match them by adjusting your own behaviors to reflect theirs. Be subtle or you will break rapport.
Matching your body language with the other person’s body language is another excellent way to establish and maintain rapport. If they adjust their body posture, you would do the same to reflect their posture. If they lean forward, you would do the same. If they crossed their leg you would do the same. Again be subtle so you don’t break rapport.
Matching specific gestures, the other person uses. This is the way they use their arms and hands or other parts often body. Be sure you do this naturally.
Matching the quality of their voice by matching their tone, tempo, pauses and intonations. Also match the speed, rhythm and intensity of their speech.
Pacing your breathing the same tempo as the other person so that your breathing is synchronized. Adjust your own breathing to be in rhythm with theirs – this is a powerful way of developing and maintaining rapport with another person.
Repetitive phrases and words
Noticing the words and phrases the other person uses – using visual, auditory or kinaesthetic language depending on their VAK preferences. This is particularly impactful if you repeat the same phrases with the same intonation.
4. Close the conversation
After establishing rapport, there comes a point where the communication is about to be closed. There are a range of subtle or not so subtle signals to indicate to another person that the conversation or meeting is drawing to an end.
Be aware that it is important to send appropriate signals that the interaction is drawing to an end. This could be a range of verbal and non-verbal clues such as looking at your watch, standing up, closing a notepad or book or making a statement about having to attend another meeting. If you close off an interaction with another person too abruptly, it can undo the rapport you worked hard to build.
In a formal setting, a professional way to close off a conversation is to summarize the main points covered in the meeting and indicate what the follow up actions are. This could be setting a time for another meeting or advising when you will get back to them with further information.
In a more informal setting, you may choose to close off a conversation by thanking the other person for their time and indicating how interesting it was to listen to what they had to say. A subtler approach may be to let them know that you would love to continue thief interaction at a later date with some suggested times and dates.
On a final note
By mastering rapport building skills, it will significantly improve your relationships and results, especially in sales.
In a Nutshell
To build rapport quickly:
- Have a positive attitude before meeting others
- Greet them with a genuine smile
- Smile with your eyes as well
- Ask effective questions to break the ice and put them at ease
- Show empathy and understanding throughout a conversation
- Match their physiology (body language and movements)
- Match their VAK language (visual, auditory or kinaesthetic)
- Match their pace, gestures, vocal qualities and breathing