No Rapport? No Relationship!

No Rapport? No Relationship!

Thanks for that introduction!

I can’t remember, right now, who introduced me to the NLP expert, but one day we’ll meet again… 🙂

The expert was very into the ‘personal power school of NLP’. My knuckles ached for a little while once I managed to extricate my hand from the handshake. I noticed, while doing so, that somehow his palm was face down and mine was face up underneath it. Hmm, the dominant handshake added to the knuckle cruncher – double whammy for him?

He quickly announced that he was a master practitioner of NLP. I’d sort of seen that coming – there are a lot this particular breed of ‘master practitioners’ out there. And, yes, when I did manage to ask a question or two I found out that he’d attended nearly a couple of weeks of training (unlike our own 6-7 weeks).

And it showed.

The fixed ever-so-sincere smile. The invasion of my body space. The unblinking eye contact – with the head slightly lowered so he was looking out from under his eyebrows. The non-stop patter – about himself. The frequent use of clumsy embedded commands such as ‘you (pause) LIKE ME are skilled in NLP’.  And I did decide not to like him, despite the embedded command to do so. And as to his being skilled in NLP….

Initially, my impulse was to get away. Escape.

But I gradually became fascinated by his truly awful use of NLP – and his complete inability to do something that is quite fundamental to real NLP... to get into rapport with me.

What is ‘rapport’?

What is rapport? It’s difficult to define succinctly because it’s not a thing.  Rapport is an ongoing activity between you and the other person – in which you gradually get into sync with one another. And this leads to you feeling at ease with one other.

It often occurs naturally when we share a common interest or are attracted to someone.  If you enjoy people watching, you’ll notice from their body language when people are in rapport and when they are not.

Rapport is important: it is essential to real communication. It makes it easy to connect, relate, exchange ideas, cooperate. Without rapport we are two people talking at, rather than relating with, one another – a pretty awkward and uncomfortable situation that most of us have experienced from time to time.

How to get into rapport

When we meet somebody for the first time, and know nothing about the skill of rapport, we usually seek to connect with them by searching for common ground, for similarities. For example, we seek to find similar family relationships, children, sporting interests, nationality, jobs, hobbies, or holiday destinations.

We usually do this in the early chitchat, small-talk stage of meeting them.

And if we can find similarities we’re off to a good start. If we don’t find similarities it can be awkward. This is not so bad if it’s a casual social situation. But the omens aren’t too good if it’s somebody you are going to be working with in your new job. Or somebody that you want to do business with. Or even the new neighbour who has just moved in next door.

Many of us if we can’t find common ground in the first chat or two, give up. We decide we can’t get on with them or don’t like them.

NLP ways of creating rapport

NLP has been exploring and refining ways of creating rapport, of getting in tune with people, for nearly 50 years. The following are some tips that have come out of that exploring and refining.

Look for similarities

Rapport the process of emphasising how we are similar and downplaying the differences between us.  This is because we gravitate to people who are like us. And we tend to avoid people who are very different to us.

NLP has identified the ways in which people who are naturally skilled in creating rapport, in emphasising similarities, get to know others. As a result, these skills can be learned in a systematic way by people who weren’t lucky enough to have picked up the skills in their youth – including myself, incidentally.

1. Ease into things

When you first meet somebody ease into things: lay the foundation for the conversation or relationship.

The most subtle and effective way is to match their voice. Matching is not the same as mimicking. Never attempt to match a person’s accent. Ever.

Instead, raise or lower your volume to it approximates their volume. Do the same with the speed at which you speak – and the number of pauses.  Same again with the softness or the sharpness of their voice. Again, be careful to only slightly change your voice.

For some people this takes quite a bit of practice. But it’s definitely worth it – matching voices is more subtle and (with practice) natural way of easing into rapport. And again, with practice, you can do this within the first two or three minutes.

Treat this as a first step in creating rapport. You are beginning to get ‘in tune’ with them and building the foundation for the conversation/relationship.

2. Build on the foundation

As you match voice build on this foundation by developing a genuine interest in them. And what makes them tick: their interests, likes and dislikes, views, lifestyle, preferences, Meta Programmes (NLP) etc.

It is really important to notice the word ‘genuine’, here. And to avoid interrogating them.

What’s the difference? If you are really interested in somebody this will be demonstrated in your responses to what they’re saying and to your follow-on questions and your sharing your similarities in this area with them.

3. Keep things evolving smoothly

Now that the rapport is developing you can choose to use the following to enhance it.

Remember the basis of rapport is ‘emphasising the similarities and playing down the differences between us’ so you can enhance rapport using the following.

Eye contact pattern: People often ask ‘how long should I maintain eye contact’ with someone? And the answer is very simple: notice how much eye contact and how much ‘looking away’ they do – and match that.

‘Inner Motor’: Let’s say that you are in a highly energetic state. And the person you are aiming to create rapport with is chilled out, laid back. How long do you think the conversation will last? The answer is pretty obvious: minutes, at most.

So approximate their energy or vitality or, if you like, the inner motor momentum of the other person. It makes life, and the conversation, a lot easier for both of you’

What about body language?

Well, you ‘could’ also match your body language with theirs. You may have come across books and videos and even experts to suggest this is a good tactic. It isn’t. It’s a high risk one - and quite unnecessary. Matching body language is likely to intrude into their awareness and have the opposite effect to what you are seeking. Avoid it.

4. Make your skills natural

Any new skill feels unnatural and clumsy at first. This is because you at the Conscious Competence stage of learning where you are very aware of how your acting differently.

But you are the one to whom it feels unnatural. Most other people don’t notice this. And the skill will become natural through practice and refinement. That’s why ‘baby steps’ are great when learning a new skill. Develop one piece of the skill at a time. And when you’ve smoothed out the wrinkles there, move on to the next piece.

5. The key ingredient: Respect

Our 'master practitioner' friend, mentioned above, may have known about the skills of rapport but knowing is not the same being able to do.

Importantly, he didn’t demonstrate the key ingredient in rapport - respect for the other person. He had his agenda – he wasn’t interested in anything else.

Even the NLP skills mentioned above do not replace this need for respect when it comes to laying the foundation for a relationship .

Can rapport skills be abused

Yes, any skill can be abused – including communication skills.

People who use NLP skills, as did our friend mentioned above, usually find that this backfires and has the opposite effect to creating rapport.

Happily most people have a built in ‘fraud detector’ when it comes to rapport.

Yes, we can get away with the insincere, manipulative approach to rapport once – but, once the person gets wise to what we are doing… well, we don’t get a second chance!  We have broken trust.

An unintended side-effect

One of the things about the rapport approach, to emphasising the similarities between you and the other person, is that you often get to like the other person.

Even if that wasn’t initially your intention; even if, say, your intention was to sell them something, or to do business with them in some other way.

This is because, as we say NLP, like likes like - we gravitate to people who are like ourselves.

When you begin using these rapport skills you could find that there are a lot more likeable people out there to get to know: an unintended and delightful side-effect of ‘just’ getting along better with people.


More articles on Rapport


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