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Introduction to Rapport

Rapport is the ability to relate to others in a way that creates a level of trust and understanding. It is the process of responsiveness at the unconscious level. It is important to build rapport with your client/colleague as it gets their unconscious mind to accept and begin to process your suggestions. They feel comfortable and relaxed-open to conversations.

Rapport is one of the most important features or characteristics of unconscious human interaction. It is a commonality of perspective, being in "sync", being on the same "wavelength" as the person with whom you are talking.

There are a number of techniques that are supposed to be beneficial in building rapport such as matching your body language (i.e., posture, gesture, and so forth), maintaining eye contact and matching breathing rhythm.

We can use rapport in interpersonal communication to encourage the person we are communicating with to relax, to feel a sense of familiarity and comfort in their interaction with us and lower the barriers of resistance and become more receptive to communication.

Rapport building 

There’s a common misunderstanding that rapport is all about getting the other person to like you. While that is often a nice effect of having rapport, it is not the core of it at all. “Rapport means you demonstrate understanding of the other person’s model of the world”. Frogs into Princes - Bandler and Grinder, pg. 80

It has nothing to do with the other person liking you (at first). Haven’t you ever talked to a good friend about something dear to you and end up frustrated because they didn’t get it? They obviously still love you, so what’s up? At the same time, don’t you love it when you meet someone for the very first time and you just click, with her getting every single thing you say? Building understanding and demonstrating it is the essence of rapport, and being liked for it is the reward. And, notice that it’s not only about saying you understand the other person’s model of the world, you demonstrate it.

What if someone says something that you don’t agree with? Are you going to lie by agreeing with them? No, you shouldn’t lie Instead, suggest that you be willing enough to expand your model of the world to include theirs and see, hear and feel things from their position. “Your Map is in my Territory”, remember? If you do that, does your own point of view disappear? No, it’s still there! And, when you do choose to come back to your own point of view, you’ll have expanded and enriched your own model of the world with an additional viewpoint.

To be successful in building rapport, you need to listen and observe. Be very patient before advancing your own viewpoint.

Establishing a good rapport is also instrumental to the successful use of the majority of the techniques within Neuro Linguistic Programming.

Here are some important key points:

  • To build rapport, you don’t have to like or agree to the other person’s model of the world but you have to at least understand it.

  • Take a genuine interest in getting to know what's important to the other person. Start to understand them rather than expecting them to understand you first.

  • Pick up on the key words, favorite phrases and ways of speaking that someone uses and build these subtly into your own conversation.

  • Notice how someone likes to handle information. Do they like lots of details or just the big picture? As you speak, give feedback on information in this same portion size.

  • Breathe in unison with them.

  • Look out for the other person's intention — their underlying aim — rather than what they do or say. They may not always get it right, but believe that their heart lies in the right place.

  • Adopt a similar stance to them in terms of your body language, gestures, voice tone and speed.

  • Respect the other person's time, energy, favorite people and money. These must be important resources for them.

The Communication Wheel and Rapport Building

communication and rapport building

Classic research looked at how live communication was received and responded to. Their figures suggested that your impact depends on three factors — how you look, how you sound, and what you say. The research broke it down as illustrated in the communication wheel here: 55 percent body language, 38 percent quality of the voice and 7 percent actual words spoken.

Clearly, first impressions count. Do you arrive for meetings and appointments hot and harassed or cool and collected? When you begin to talk, do you mumble your words in a low whisper to the floor or gaze directly and confidently at your audience before speaking out loud and clear?

In terms of building rapport — you are the message and the messenger. And you need all parts of you working in harmony: words, pictures, and sounds. If you don't look confident — as if you believe in your message — people will not listen to what you are saying.

Rapport involves being able to see eye-to-eye with other people and connecting on their wavelength. So much (93 per cent) of the perception of your sincerity comes not from what you say but how you say it and how you show an appreciation for the other person's thoughts and feelings.

When you form rapport with someone, you can disagree with what they say and still relate respectfully with them. The important point to remember is to acknowledge other people for the unique individuals that they are. For example, you may well have different political or religious views to your colleagues or clients, but there's no need to fall out about it.

Hold on to the fact that you simply wish to differ with their opinion and this is no reflection on the person. A person is more than what they say, do, or believe. (Myers-Briggs)

Rapport and sensory acuity

rapport and sensory acuity

Rapport develops from responding to someone utilizing the power of words (7%), voice tone (38%) and physiology (55%). This means, 93% is non-verbal. Purposeful rapport building demonstrates the high art of communication.

The reason is, communication distinguishes between visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and audio-digital preferences. These preferences express themselves in the way a person is speaking, e.g., While “I can see what you mean” rather clearly indicates a person with a visual preference, a person saying “I can hear what you say” reveals more of an auditory preference. Knowing these preferences in a conversation helps a lot to build rapport.

Watching eye patterns during a conversation is also meaningful because eye patterns reveal mental processes non-verbally. For example, after some calibration, one can identify if the other person is recalling information or rather constructing a piece of information when answering a question.

The Power of Matching and Mirroring

matching and mirroring

Without openly mimicking, match the other person’s style of speech, energy and gesture. Matching and mirroring are two essential skills that will allow you to establish rapport with anyone in a shorter period of time. Matching and mirroring can also be used to measure the existing rapport between two or more individuals.

To illustrate this point, try watching two best friends when they talk. Observe how these two individuals talk and move as they banter. Did you notice something special between them?

What you are actually seeing is matching and mirroring. One person mirrors the other. Then the second person matches the movement of the other. They do it because they are comfortable, happy and they are at ease.

This is the kind of rapport that we want when we are interacting with other people. Of course, we can’t be best friends with every person that we have to talk to. In fact, it would be extremely exhausting if we had to do that because establishing snap friendships can be tiresome (at best). But even if we can’t do that, it doesn’t mean that we can’t apply the method to our daily interactions. On the contrary, you can always use matching and mirroring regardless of who is in front of you, especially with the clients.

So, how can you start using this marvelous approach to establishing instant rapport with people?

The first thing that you have to do is activate the VAK/VAKOG system. Let your senses run wild and let your imagination do its work. Listen as if this is the first time that you are listening to someone talk. Pay close attention to what the other person is saying and respond not only through verbal language but through body language.

Observe how the other person talks and moves and try to naturally match what they are doing. The idea here is to start mimicking some of the other person’s gestures and expressions so that later on, they would do the same for you. When the other person starts mimicking your movements and your expressions that is a time that you can be sure that you have been successful in matching and mirroring.

The important aspects of matching & mirroring are :

  1. Posture

  2. Breathing

  3. Voice tonality (Tone, Tempo, and Timbre)

    1. The Tone of your voice is referring to the pitch /frequency of the voice.

    2. The Tempo of your voice is referring to the speed/pace or rhythm of the voice.

    3. The Timbre of your voice is the quality and characteristics of the voice.

     4. Speed

      5. Gestures- only match their gestures when it’s your turn to speak.

facial expressions

Here are some ways that you can ignite rapport in a conversation without looking the part of someone who wants to speed up the process of rapport:

1. Observe the other person’s posture. Do they look tense or relaxed? Do they look lazy or confident? Match the person’s posture to begin aligning yourself with the person’s wavelength. If the other person feels lazy, you are showing that you understand their feeling at the moment and they will be less resistant to your message because you appear to be non-threatening. Harmonizing with the other fellow is the key here. The more you harmonize, the more comfortable the other person gets.

2. Check out the subject’s gestures. Do they wave around their arms when they get excited? Do they fiddle with their pen or press their cellular phone when they are listening to you? Do they like to make gestures with their hands when they are trying to emphasize important points? Match these gestures when you talk and watch the magic of mirroring take place.

3. A person’s breathing rate can reveal his state of mind. A person with a fast breathing rate may be agitated, nervous, excited or downright frightened.

By matching the other person’s breathing rate, you would be able to pace and eventually lead the person to a more desirable state. For example, if the other person is breathing fast because he is agitated, increasing your breathing rate will allow you to get his full attention and then you can slow down your breathing rate afterward.

The other person will most likely mirror you and you would both have more comfortable breathing rates afterward. The idea behind matching and mirroring is not to let the other person take control of the conversation or interaction.

On the contrary, you are matching the other person with the intent of eventually taking control of the interaction so that you will succeed with what you want to happen in the first place.

4. Measure the other person’s energy level. Some people like gesturing from the chest up. These folks are “high energy” people who really like to pump things up when they are talking. Some folks are so shy that they keep their hands on their sides. They do this so that their voices do not rise too much and they won’t sound like they want to take control of the interaction. If the other person’s energy level works for you, then by all means, don’t try leading the person to a higher or lower energy level. But if the subject’s energy level is too high or too low for your taste, then it might help to first match the other person’s energy level so that you can eventually adjust it to a more comfortable level.

5. And, then we have the other person’s speech rate and speech tone. A very excited person would speak very fast and would also have a higher tone of voice. If they are speaking quickly, try to speak at the same sort of speed for a while, and then gradually slow down to see if their speech matches yours.

How does the person speak to you? Why does he speak that way? Is it because they are excited or bored? Or are they trying to sound excited so that you won’t be offended? Determine those things and make the adjustments needed to make the interaction work.

Important note : Be careful to not engage in obvious mimicry. Mimicry is defined as “the action or practice of the art of mimicking”. Mimicking in itself is just artificial imitation of someone else’s gestures and words. Mimicking is done for its own sake; it doesn’t belong in neuro-linguistic programming. People often mimic when they want to mock or make fun of someone else.

Never match uncontrollable gestures and facial expressions : Non- negotiable

For example, if the other person had an inborn facial tic, you should never, ever match the tic even if it is very obvious or if it is done very frequently. Why? Because the other person probably dislikes the tic very much and would do anything to get rid of the tic. The same applies to uncontrollable gestures and peculiar movements. For example, if a person flicks his hands every so often because of a physical condition, ignore the hands but watch how he moves his body when he leans in to talk to you.

You can also observe how the other person reacts when you say specific things to them. How does he react when you object to what he says? How does he react when you laugh when he cracks a joke? These are the most important. interstices in the other person’s verbal and nonverbal armor that you must pay attention to so that you can establish rapport more quickly.

Crossover Matching/Mirroring

This is when instead of identically matching/mirroring your client you do a similar thing i.e. instead of sitting back in the chair arms crossed legs open, you could sit slightly forward, with arms open (possibly leaning on the arms of the chair) with your legs crossed. The aim is to get the client to relax and feel comfortable by establishing rapport.

Pacing & Leading

Pacing and leading are two other skills that you need to develop if you want to establish rapport. These are complementary skills. When you pace someone, you do it with the intention of eventually leading them to a particular state that you believe is beneficial to both of you. This is when you have matched your client and got into a good rapport with him/her/them. When you have reached this level of rapport you can pace the person by changing the pace either by slowing them down then leading them so that the remaining conversation was at your pace not at the pace of other individuals.

Here’s an illustrative example explaining what is pacing & leading: Let’s say you wanted to board a bus but the bus has already started running. You want to jump on the bus but in order to do so, you would have to run alongside the vehicle. You not only have to run alongside the bus but you also have to increase your speed to match the current speed of the vehicle.

If you try to jump in the bus with less speed, it is likely that you are going to get hurt in the process. But, if you are able to gather enough speed to match the exact speed of the bus, you will be able to jump in without a scratch.

Pacing and leading apply not only to gestures and body language in general but also to verbal exchanges between people. If you are set on influencing another person so that he will see things your way, you would have to pace and lead him so that there would be a minimum of resistance. This can be done with changes in voice quality, tonality, volume, timer, body position.

Pacing and leading will also give you access to the person’s innermost thoughts and that is actually quite important in drawing out potential roadblocks to success. These roadblocks are simply the hidden objections of people. Hidden objections are objections that are not verbalized by people for a variety of reasons. For example, if you are trying to convince someone to leave a particular method for your own method, you would have to draw out the different objections that this person may have about the idea itself.

If you cannot draw out these objections, they will stay hidden from view and the other person will continue to say “no” to you. You will end up becoming more and more frustrated because all your arguments will fall on deaf ears. So you just keep doing it until you reach that exact moment that the person is already caving in and saying yes to what you’re saying.

That is the time when you should start leading him to where you want him to be. Until this time is reached, do not try to lead the person because they will feel that you are consciously trying to take control of them and when this happens and the conditions are less than ideal, a lot of negative things can happen.

In Focus: Rapport and Virtual Environments

Several decades ago, the idea of really communicating with someone through an interconnected network of computers and devices was the stuff of fantasy. The idea belonged to the books of science fiction, not reality. Today, we live in a world that is absolutely ruled by virtual communication. And virtual communication is a wonderful thing because it has allowed so many things to become possible for countless people around the world.

Here are some expert tips on improving rapport in a virtual environment:

1. If you are about to speak to a lot of people over the telephone or over service like Skype, make sure that all individuals are connected before you start talking.

2. Before everyone starts exchanging ideas and information, set an agenda that you will all follow.

3. Inform the others that you are expecting a specific set of outcomes from the meeting and that it would be the best to work toward these outcomes.

4. It is possible that not everyone in the teleconference or Skype meeting will be talking. Do not close the meeting until everyone has given their input. Encourage other members of the meeting to talk and share their ideas and really listen to them.

5. If some people are talking among themselves, stop them and try to lead them back to the main topic.

6. It is harder to catch information over the phone or over a non-video conference because people won’t see your face when you talk. With this in mind, you have to slow down and repeat parts of your statements to ensure that everyone is able to perceive) what you are saying.

7. Even though it might be challenging, try to employ the VAK system and adapt to the specific preferences of people.

8. Call people by their name before stating something so that your subject would pay attention before you give your facts.

9. Imagine how the other person would react to your words by trying to put yourselves in their shoes.

A Reasonable Approach to Breaking Rapport / Mismatching 

This may sound strange to some readers because we have been discussing rapport so extensively in the previous sections that one would think that it’s a little crazy to break rapport with another person. Why would anyone want to break rapport with another person? Sometimes you will feel the need to do that. This is what the discipline of NLP calls mismatching. Here’s a short story that will shed light on this matter:

There was once a doctor who was extremely popular with all of her patients. She was so popular in fact that she always appeared on top of all patient surveys. Her secret (as you may have already guessed) is rapport with all of her patients.

She made sure that she spent more than the necessary amount of time for each patient. It was common for her to exceed the regular one hour allotment for each of her patients. This would have been a nice scenario if she did not actually fall behind in terms of handling all of her appointments.

In the case of this doctor, her rapport with her patients meant the patients loved talking to her so much that she spent more time with each patient. The doctor soon became stressed and overburdened with the sheer number of appointments that she had to handle on a daily basis. When she approached a counselor for advice, she discovered that she had a problem breaking rapport with people. She had a natural ability to establish rapport with all of her patients but her problem was that the interactions were so successful that she could not break away from the interactions even if she really had to.

As one can imagine, if this problem persists, the doctor would have probably succumbed to overwork and she would probably have to turn away some appointments every week just to cope with the demand for her services.

As an NLP practitioner or even as a common individual one should be aware of how to actually break the rapport you have with another person without offending your subject. Such cases are relatively common in therapist-client relationships and even in certain relationships we form that aren’t supposed to last long.

Some people might be thinking – it’s easy to break rapport; I can be rude and the rapport will end immediately!

That’s correct, you can actually break rapport by mistreating another person. But then again, imagine the outcome of that type of approach to breaking rapport. The other person would probably mistrust you and may not even want to talk to you next time. Not just that, it might make it hard for them to trust people ever again, especially when it is about confiding in someone. Breaking rapport in a disrespectful way can have irreparable consequences.

Strategically breaking rapport is necessary if you want the other person to be comfortable and trusting the next time you meet. Here are some ways that you can sensitively end rapport in an interaction without hurting anyone’s feelings:

1. Gradually create dissonance between your posture and the other person’s posture. When you want to establish rapport, it is common for NLP practitioners or even therapists to match the active posture of their subject. If you want to break rapport, you need to do the opposite. You need to create some dissonance between your posture and the other person’s posture so that the harmonizing trance will end.

2. Break eye contact with the person towards the end of your interaction.

3. Change the expression of your eyebrows.

4. Modify how you sound. If you were loud before, try lowering your tone of voice. If you had a lower tone beforehand, try increasing your tone for effect.

5. Strategic silence often helps in breaking rapport.

6. Turn your head away from the person but don’t turn your back – you may inadvertently send a very negative message to the other person. Instead of just breaking the rapport because you have to leave the conversation, you might end up sending a message like “I don’t want to see your face”.

Be careful with the messages that you send with your body language. We all have an inborn ability to understand body language. The other person may not have the special knowledge to explain what he feels when he observes your negative body language, but his subconscious mind will begin generating thoughts like “he doesn’t like you at all” or “he is not showing any respect” and you do not want this kind of problem hanging over your head the next time you meet this person.

7. Learn to say the golden phrases like “I will see you next time”, “thank you very much for that great discussion” and “goodbye and be safe”.

I know that many people like waiting for the other person to say these phrases because it’s polite to wait, but sometimes, you have to be the one who will signal the end of the interaction. Just make sure you say goodbye to the other person properly.

When is the right time to end an interaction?

Here are some key situations where you definitely have to break rapport:

1. When a customer agrees to buy something, they should be left for a few minutes to review the terms of the sale. Standing over another person’s shoulder as they mull over their decision to buy something is never a good practice.

2. When you already have all the details you need from another person and the conversation has already veered off topic.

3.When you are talking to one person and you see another person that you need to talk to urgently about something.

4. When you feel weary and exhausted from all the talking.

5. When you are doing something at the moment and you really need to finish it.

6. When the other person is trying to lure you into topics and issues that you are not comfortable discussing.


'Rapport' : NLP or Common Sense

Much of this about creating rapport one will say is common sense. So it is. But NLP helps us to concentrate on the issues, it gives us techniques to assist us, and reminds us of the need to examine our relationships from all angles. Building rapport is just another aspect of that. NLP helps us to look for common signs so that we can see where we have an opportunity of building rapport with one another and to build upon that.

Building rapport is a very useful tool. When working with clients, meeting new people and greeting customers you need to build rapport. As an NLP Practitioner having rapport is extremely important, you are going to be poking and prodding at people’s feelings and emotions. Even as a common individual if you don't have rapport you are only making it harder on yourself.

Rapport is something that we as human beings do naturally every day and often without being consciously aware of it.

As a rule of thumb people like people who are like themselves. It's very easy to get into rapport with a person you strongly identify with, where there are common experiences and frames of reference that give you a common ground for communication and interaction.



This article on 'Rapport' has been contributed by Priya Pandey who is a student of Psychology, from St.Mira's College and peer reviewed by Ishita Vashisht who is a psychology student from Keshav Mahavidyalaya, Delhi University

Priya and Ishita are both part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP), which is mentored by Anil Thomas.

Priya's future plan is to practice as a professional Counseling Psychologist and work in mental health sector. Further she would like to complete the PhD course for the same.

Ishita hopes to pursue a doctoral degree in psychology and understand human behaviour, their attachment styles and clinical disorders through her own lens.

GIRP is an initiative by (International Journal of Neurolinguistics & Gestalt Psychology) IJNGP and Umang Foundation Trust to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.

Anil is an internationally certified NLP Master Practitioner and Gestalt Therapist. He has conducted NLP Training in Mumbai, and across 6 other countries. The NLP practitioner course is conducted twice every year. To get your NLP certification 


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