Building rapport with anyone: 5 hacks that work
[7 min read]
How to connect with others to improve relationships and communication.
The foundation of human connection and effective communication is without a doubt trust, which allows us to successfully navigate the uncertainties and complexities of today. Knowing how to create a sense of trust and understanding with stakeholders through rapport can offer countless opportunities and accelerates the growth of individuals and organisations alike.
Rapport is the ability to enter someone else’s world to make them feel that you understand them, that you have a strong common bond. ~ Tony Robbins
If we can establish rapport with others, our team members, current clients, potential customers and any other stakeholders will be much more likely to want to interact with us, share information, listen to us, buy from us, support our ideas and collaborate effectively.
When human beings get together, if they can build rapport, they become like each other in a variety of ways. In other words, people like people who are like:
- Themselves, or
- How they would like to be
People in management or leadership positions may often be working with a very diverse group of individuals. Finding ‘sameness’ may initially be a challenge. However, humans have far more in common than not. You can create an environment based on a common purpose, clear expectations and respect, which becomes the shared understanding. Rapport is less about compliance than it is about a mutual sense of being seen and appreciated – and the willingness to collaborate that generates.
Business, after all, is nothing more than a bunch of human relationships. ~ Lee Iacocca
How effective our rapport building methods and communication skills are, often becomes evident in the responses we receive. If we feel that we are not getting heard or that our message does not create any impact, we must change our approach to the way we communicate.
We can communicate something with spoken words, but the listener might detect an entirely different message. The reason for this is that language consists of 3 components, also called the 3 Vs.
These 3 elements go hand in hand. If you use negative words, your body language and vocals will reflect that. Or if your body language is negative, you cannot speak positive, empowering words with authenticity. Because these elements are linked, we need to take responsibility for how we conduct our body, our mind and our words. To be effective and successful communicators, we must bring what we think, say and feel in harmony. Only then can we build rapport and get a clear message across.
Resistance is a sign of a lack of rapport.
This article provides 5 hacks, or methods, that will assist managers and leaders to connect with others through rapport and trust building, improve communication skills and thus strengthen relationships in the long term.
Hack #1: Refine non-verbal rapport
We establish and maintain rapport subconsciously through matching body language such as posture and movements, eye contact, facial expressions, breathing etc.
Body Posture and Movements
People enjoying good rapport assume an open body posture. This consists of gestures that include uncrossed legs and arms, forward leaning, up and down head nodding, and head tilts. A person experiencing good rapport does not feel threatened by the person they are talking to and, therefore, are comfortable assuming an open posture. People who feel threatened by the people they are talking to tend to assume a closed body posture to protect themselves from the threat or
Human beings like to know that they have undivided attention. Maintaining direct, friendly eye contact not only shows that you’re attentive and self-confident, but also that you care about what they have to say.
Be genuine; your facial expression speaks volume. People feel when we are sincere. Appropriate and congruent emotions should be conveyed through your facial expression.
It is important to maintain relaxed, flowing movements with your hands when interacting with clients because frantic, fidgety or abrupt hand gestures can send the wrong message or distract individuals.
When interacting with individuals, your body position should communicate confidence, openness and attentiveness. Therefore, having good posture and body language that portrays this is vital.
One of the most powerful ways to be in rapport is breathing at the exact same pace as another person. If you pay close attention to where they are breathing from (top, middle or bottom of lungs), and whether they take deep or shallow, fast or slow breaths, you will establish an incredibly deep rapport with this other person.
Hack #2: Enhance verbal rapport
Although non-verbal communication (body language) is more powerful than verbal communication (spoken words), we must understand that verbal and non-verbal communication are complementary to each other and must be in harmony to be most effective.
An excellent way to build rapport with written and verbal communication is the use of the ‘Primary Representational System’; essentially our personal learning style and situational response approach, in other words how we best absorb information and/or respond to an event. Verbal communication are obviously spoken words; but we in fact have ‘different languages’ within English, depending on our individual learning style.
It is highly beneficial to recognise the other people’s representational system and start ‘speaking their language’. So, the question we need to ask ourselves when building rapport is: “Can I speak the other person’s language?”
Feel free to explore insights into this in our article “How to build strong business relationships by speaking the other person’s language”.
Hack #3: Master body language cues
To create strong and lasting professional relationships through rapport building, we must be able to ‘read’ the other person, including their body language. One effective method to do this is to utilise ‘sensory acuity’, the ability to notice the movements from moment to moment that the other person is showing, such as eyes watering, sighing, eyebrows lifting, a shift in the seat for a short moment.
We can then calibrate, in other words ‘tune into’, the other person and the level of energy, conversational pace, movement and attitude they are choosing at that moment. It’s important to acknowledge, of course, that any specific micro-movement doesn’t have an exact meaning that applies as a definitive sign of a given emotional state for all people all the time. However, these small physical indicators do provide clues as to how a person’s response may be changing over the course of an interaction or relationship.
While verbal communication can provide cues about the emotions people are feeling, body language is the most powerful way to pick up emotional cues and includes for example:
- Body movements / posture
- Eye contact
- Facial expressions
- Physiological changes, such as starting to sweat or tearing up
- Proxemics, for example how close or far away a person stands from us
Our body language is boundless, and the meaning can change from culture to culture. Take ‘eye contact’, for example. In most Western countries, eye contact is a sign of confidence and attentiveness. However:
- In many Middle Eastern countries, eye contact beyond a brief glance between the sexes is deemed inappropriate
- In many Asian, African, and Latin American countries, this unbroken eye contact would be considered aggressive and confrontational as these cultures tend to be quite conscious of hierarchy and avoiding eye contact is a sign of respect for bosses and elders
If we interact with a diverse audience, our awareness of cultural differences in what is considered appropriate body language will be noticed and appreciated – building respect and rapport with members of minority groups who are often left out of the conversation, even when they are in the room.
Hack #4: Apply Matching & Mirroring
Something that always works to overcome differences and build rapport for strong relationships is ‘Matching and Mirroring’, based on the theories of the late Milton Erickson, an American psychiatrist and psychologist specialising in medical hypnosis and family therapy.
By matching and mirroring the other person, we constantly calibrate the nuances of these aspects and adjust our own energy, conversational pace, movement and attitude to match the other person. We must calibrate the person to determine what signals they are communicating.
Milton Erickson understood that we have both a conscious mind and a subconscious mind. He recognised that the subconscious is more powerful. It’s the part that makes our heart beat over 100,000 times a day without us having to think about it. So, for example, matching the other person’s breathing pattern is an easy yet very powerful way of building rapport.
Hack #5: Elevate with Pace & Lead
Once we know how to apply the Matching & Mirroring method, we can elevate rapport building to the next level with the Pace & Lead method.
- Pacing is to establish rapport; it is Matching & Mirroring
- Leading is then taking the lead to move the conversation forward in an ecological way to achieve a win/win outcome
For example, when we are dealing with someone who feels angry or negative: first, pace (match) their behaviour (within reason), then gradually start to lead (e.g. moving towards more open gestures like unfolding arms, slowing down speed of conversation and breathing slower and deeper).
In conclusion; rapport is the foundation for effective communication, and establishing and maintaining rapport is an important leadership skill to acquire, and incredibly beneficial in our professional life – it opens doors and helps establish strong and lasting relationships with superiors, colleagues, team members, and any other stakeholders alike.
“Dare to make a difference!”
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