10 Ways To Build Rapid Rapport

The importance of rapport building is something that has come up no less than 3 times with Life Coaching clients in the last week alone.

Then I was recording a module on sales for the Life Coach Marketing course and it came up again there.

Even though I have written on the topic a couple of times before, I was shocked to realize the last time was almost 2 years ago.

So I thought now would be a great time to dust rapport building down and drag it into the light of day again.

10 Ways To Build Rapid Rapport

I said at the beginning that rapport building is an important topic, but I didn’t say why it’s so important. I don’t want to insult your intelligence here, but do you buy products from people you don’t like? Do you have a dentist, doctor or accountant you dislike? Would you ever hire a Life Coach you thought was an idiot?

I’m fairly sure the answer to all those questions is an emphatic ‘no‘ and there in a nutshell you can see why building rapport is so important. But let me make one thing crystal clear before we kick off.

This is not designed as a means of getting your own way and manipulating people. Rapport is a two way street and if you are creating the illusion of rapport just to get your own way, you’re a douche bag!

1. Pacing & Leading

Pacing is critical in building rapport. Pacing is the act of following the tempo of the person that you are talking to. This does not mean mimic them or trying to copy their accent. It simple means listening for their speed and pitch of delivery and match it as closely as you can.

Fast talkers can often get frustrated with people who talk more slowly and vice versa.

I have a very broad northern English accent and I have a tendency to speak very quickly. However, I will often slow my speech right down when I get somebody calling me about Life Coaching that has a slower delivery themselves.

I want to be able to build rapport with a person and that’s a tad tricky if they can’t understand a damn word I’m saying!

If you’ve paced properly and you now want to change things up a tad you can now lead.

This simply means moving the conversation to where you want it to be. Low and behold the other person will often unconsciously start to pace you, and you have control of the situation as well as confirming you have built a high level of rapport.

This can be used by highly astute customer service people that want to calm an irate customer.

If somebody is shouting and screaming at you, about the worst thing you can do is slowly and quietly tell them to calm down whilst smiling at them.

What you should be doing is matching their intensity (with more appropriate language) for a short while before slowly lowering your own voice as the heat is taken out of the situation..

2. Mirroring and Matching

People that are in rapport will often have similar body language. Next time you’re out in a social setting look for couples and see if you can spot those that are in completely engrossed in each other.

Apart from the gazing into each others eyes and fooling around under the table there is also a better than even chance they will be replicating each others body movement quite closely.

When one takes a drink, more often than not the other will do too.

This is all done at an unconscious level, so don’t worry about looking too obvious if you adopt this approach.

Unless you’re clumsier than a 3-legged donkey after consuming a 6-pack it’s highly unlikely the other person will notice, because what you’re doing is natural behavior for people in rapport.

A good starting point with this can be with an introductory handshake. If the person you are meeting has a handshake that could crush a keg of beer don’t hang your hand out there like you’re asking your manicurist what he thinks of your cuticles.

You do have long enough during a handshake to get this right, so practice it if you want to master it.

3. Establishing Eye Contact

Quite honestly this is a lot less important than many people would have you believe. I don’t know how many times I have read that making eye contact is critical to building rapport, but it’s not necessarily true. It can be useful, but it can also blow the deal if you get it wrong.

I’d advise being fairly vague to begin with and looking to see what the other person does. You can easily freak somebody out if you hold their stare for too long. Equally it can seem weird if you’re gazing everywhere but at the person you’re with.

Hold eye contact when they are talking because it demonstrates interest and that definitely is important, but remember to break it from time to time, especially if they start sweating profusely and looking agitated.

Also be aware of cultural differences with eye contact. In, admittedly very rare circumstances, and with the wrong person, it can not only break rapport but get you beaten to a bloody pulp by the local Secret Police.

4. Ask Questions

By this I don’t mean ask them if they know the 7th letter of the Greek alphabet. Ask them open ended questions (questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no) about themselves.

Most people (although far from all) like to talk about themselves and if you keep asking them to tell you more they’ll think you’re just brilliant.

Apparently this is one of the things Bill Clinton is really good at and if you know anybody that has met Clinton, you will know what a world-class rapport builder he is.

5 Actively Listen

Once you have asked a question, don’t then start yawning, checking your watch or playing a game on your iPhone.

Listen, and by that I mean actively listen.

This involves genuinely being interested and showing that interest by occasionally nodding your head or interjecting with words that encourage the person to continue and demonstrate your genuine interest.

6. Offer Compliments

The vast majority of people like compliments and are attracted to people that give them one.

A big no-no here though is to make them up.

If your midlife crisis enduring boss turns up to work dressed in a hideous flowery shit unbuttoned to the waist, wearing more bling than Snoop Dog and sunglasses that would make Elton John weep with shame, don’t tell him he looks great.

7. Smile

As with eye contact this is not an open and shut case. Most of the time smiling is good and will help build rapport.

However, smiling may be inappropriate on occasions and I don’t encourage you to bound up to the widow at a funeral with a big cheesy grin on your face.

8. Search For Commonalities

This is a brilliant rapport builder and one I frequently used when I was in sales (in a highly ethical manner of course). It works best when you are in the other persons environment and you can look for signs of things or interests they like that you also like.

A ward of warning though, don’t pretend you’re into into bungee jumping if you get vertigo climbing into a Hummer, or that you’re a vegetarian with half a hamburger stuck to your front teeth, because people have a much stronger innate sense of being bullshitted than you may imagine.

The fact is that on the whole,  people like people like them and this is a great way to demonstrate similarities and build rapid rapport whilst remaining ethical and honest.

9. Representational Systems

This is possibly the most difficult part of rapport building to explain. It’s also probably the most controversial and there is plenty of debate about the efficacy of it.

According to NLP, everybody has a primary representational system (or as it is also called, a sensory modality) for communication. Although we obviously have 5 senses, for representational system purposes we only use three, and they are:

Auditory – Sound
Kinesthetic – Feelings
Visual – Pictures

The belief is that if you are an auditory person you are more likely to describe your subjective experience using primarily auditory terms. So you may say things like:

“I hear what your saying” or “That doesn’t sound too good to me

On the other hand a kinesthetic person may say

“I feel that is right” or “I can’t get a handle on that”

And a visual person may say:

“I see what you mean” or “That doesn’t look good to me”

The theory is that if you can spot a person that heavily uses one representational system, then you can help establish rapport by slipping into their way of talking.

Does it work? My sense is that up to a point, yes. On the other hand, most people will flip between representational systems so spotting which is their primary one isn’t always easy to do.

Also, unlike a lot of the other methods you actually can be spotted doing this if you start fumbling for words you’d not normally use.

10. Eye Accessing Cues

If you think representational systems are a tad controversial, wait until you get your head round eye accessing cues.

Although it’s not technically part of rapport building, it can have it’s uses if you want to understand what somebody else is thinking. Presuming that is, you use it judiciously and don’t rely too heavily on the conclusions you may draw.

Some NLPers love eye accessing cues and swear they work for everybody all the time. And I would like to respond in my best Gregory House MD voice:

“They’re idiots”

Here’s the theory. Whenever you have a thought and presuming you don’t fix your gaze or defocus, your eyes will tend to move in one of 6 directions. We all do this, even if most people never realize they’re doing it.

NLP suggests that each time you do that you are giving away crucial information about what you are thinking about – in very general terms of course.

  • Eyes looking up to the right -Visual construct i.e. you are forming a picture of the future
  • Eyes looking up to the left – Visual reconstruct i.e. you are visualizing something that happened in the past
  • Eyes looking across to the right – Auditory construct i.e. hearing something in the future
  • Eyes looking across to the right – Auditory reconstruct i.e. remembering something you heard
  • Eyes looking down to the right – Kinesthetic, i.e accessing feelings
  • Eyes looking down to the left – Auditory digital i.e. accessing an internal conversation.

Now hold on before you go thinking your partner is cheating on you because when you asked him where he was last night and he looked up to the right to construct an image rather than reconstruct it. Because  here’s where it can fall down.

Not everybody follows this pattern. And those that do (the common belief is about 70% of people) will sometimes break it.

I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water because eye accessing cues are interesting and I sometimes employ them with clients to get a better understanding of what they are thinking and/or feeling.

However, they involve a lot of benchmarking to get right and even when you do the benchmarking to see how the person operates, it’s still possible they can throw you a curve ball and do something counter intuitive.

Whereas I have no doubt some people are naturally good at rapport building, it’s a skill and as such I have no doubt that almost anybody can learn it if they want to badly enough. If that’s you, you now know what to do, so go and do it.

This is a pretty big topic condensed into a small space, so if you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Photo: ‘Project 365, Day 131 Group Hug’ Courtesy of Peter aka Amoneprojectors