Rapport: how to feel at ease with people
‘Rapport’ is what we experience when we feel comfortable with one another. When we’re on the same wavelength. Or share a mutual respect for one another. We can have rapport with one person – or with a group of people, such as a family, group of friends, or work or sports team.
But what is it – and how can be ‘do’ it?
Rapport – essential for communication
In NLP rapport is the essential foundation for good communication. Without rapport there may be a lot of talk but there is little genuine exchange of views. And this exchange of views emphasises another aspect of rapport: we can be in rapport with someone with who we disagree.
NLP is famous for its range of methods for ‘creating’ rapport – because the methods do work.
(It’s also justifiably infamous for its rapport-creating methods! Because these are abused. And because many people use these methods as manipulative tactics to get their own way without respect for the other person. Fortunately, the rapport attained through manipulative use of the methods is usually short-lived and results in long-term resentment towards the manipulator.)
The usual way of getting into rapport is slow and inefficient. We engage in small-talk. While this is going on we are ‘sounding out’ one another – evaluating body language, voice tonalities, expressions, shared interests, and so on. And as this is going one we giving them brownie points based on things we like about them, or taking points away, whilst evaluating if they are someone with whom we can get along. And, of course, we are attempting to figure out how they think about and feel about us.
This can take forever!
Rapport can be ‘jump-started’
The NLP methods enable us to speed up or jump-start the rapport creation process. So instead of waiting and hoping for it to occur naturally we ‘jump-start’ the process using NLP methods developed from studying how rapport occurs naturally.
However it is important to remember that the methods do not replace the need for the mutual respect and recognition that that naturally evolves when people get into rapport with one another. Without these qualities the rapport will be short-lived.
4 Rapport Methods
So to get things moving more effectively here are 4 NLP ways of creating, and maintaining, excellent rapport… plus one method that should be avoided.
1. Rapport and eye contact
Good eye contact is a key element in face-to-face communication – and ‘good’ means the kind of eye contact they prefer.
In rapport we aim to emphasise the similarities between us and play down the differences. One of the ways of doing this is through engaging in good eye contact. But this ‘good’ eye contact doesn’t mean using an unblinking, unwavering stare that practically drills into the back f their eyeballs.
Good eye contact mean the kind of eye contact that they use – because this is what they are most comfortable with.
You may like maintaining sustained eye contact when talking with someone. That’s your style. It’s not everyone’s: some people find this uncomfortable, some find it intimidating, and others find it disrespectful. These people will not look you in the eye. And if you wish to have good rapport with them you have to accept and match their style.
(There is an article on Eye Contact on our main website)
2. Voice matching works well
Voice matching is the best and gentlest way of establishing rapport. It’s also great for phone conversations.
Skilful voice matching is both subtle and effective. Matching how a person uses their voice is a great way to create and/or enhance rapport – and in a way that does not intrude into their conscious awareness.
How? Adopt a similar voice style to the other person. Match their tone, tempo, volume, pauses or intensity. Never attempt to match their accent; this is pretty well guaranteed to backfire. (I still remember the looks of astonishment and shock from one of our Dublin NLP Practitioner groups when, many years ago, a visiting UK NLP Trainer tried this. He never regained rapport with the group after that.)
3. Rapport and ‘equal status’
Status is the stance we adopt towards the other person (or group). It conveys to them how we feel them. Think: what status does your style communicate to them? Superior, condescending? Inferior, grovelling) We are equal?
Status is the one-up or one-down relationship you create with people. It refers to how you think about and feel about them. And it sends a powerful message towards the other person. People who take high status come across as superior and patronising – it announces that we expect the other person to look up to them. People who adopt low status are telegraphing that they don’t think very highly of themselves: they don’t respect themselves which, in turn, means that they are unlikely to be respected by others.
The ideal is to establish equal status so they recognise that you feel neither inferior nor superior to them but regard them as your equal. In general, and with exceptions, rapport won’t work well or at least won’t work for very long unless you treat others as your equals.
4. Rapport – the easy way!
This is the easiest and most truthful way of creating great rapport – and it is the simplest. Be genuinely interested in them, in their views and in their ideas…
It’s great to have methods for jump-starting, backing up and reinforcing rapport. But if these are used as tricks to manipulate the result will be short-lived. So how to achieve this ‘real and genuine rapport?’
It’s actually quite easy…
Take a sincere interested in them, their views and ideas… do this and rapport will follow. And you’ll likely find that, after a few minutes, you’re both naturally and unconsciously matching one another’s body language as a result. See this article: http://nlp-now.co.uk/rapport-genuine-interest/
And now the NLP ‘technique’ that they threw away: matching body language
As a general rule never match their posture, or gestures, or facial expression. Yes, it ‘can’ work, sometimes… But it’s risky and liable to backfire.
It’s quite amazing how, almost 45 years since NLP began, many NLP tutors are still recommending NLP techniques that have long since been thrown away! Teaching methods that were merely experimental back in the beginning of the 70’s when NLP was starting – and which the original team played around with and then dumped!
One of these is ‘body language matching’ i.e. mimicking the other person’s body language as a way of creating rapport. Yes, it can work, on rare occasions. But nowadays it’s too well known, too facile and obvious and, whatever the intentions, will frequently be perceived by the other person as a disrespectful trick to manipulate them.
It is best avoided – especially when the other 4 methods work excellently.
(You can read about it here https://nlp-now.co.uk/the-nlp-matching-body-language-technique and here https://nlp-now.co.uk/nlp-rapport-6-nlp-body-language-method)
(Note: This article was originally published in February 2012. It has now been updated and extended.)