As a consultant and project manager communication is at the heart of everything I do, whether it is delivering a presentation to clients, conflict resolution, assigning tasks and responsibilities or just the daily interactions I have with colleagues. Understanding how to build rapport with people is one of the most important tools I carry in life and I hope that this little snippet can give you some actionable insight into how you can build rapport in both your personal and professional life.
One of the best techniques to build rapport is to match and mirror (not mimic!) someone else’s behaviour. Mirroring is a behaviour that is subconsciously exhibited in social situations, especially among close friends or family. When you mirror someone’s behaviour, you allow them to feel more connected to you, giving them a greater sense of engagement and belonging within the situation. On the other hand, you can also ensure that you are not exhibiting opposite behaviours that may cause tension and lack of engagement in the situation.
To be able to mirror someone’s behaviour you need to listen with your entire body and not just your ears. You need to observe the other’s behaviour and align your behaviour so that you are both singing the same tune.
1- Body Posture & Gestures
Observational questions to ask yourself include – what posture is the other person assuming? are they leaning forwards or backwards? where have they positioned their arms or hands?
For example, if the person you are talking to is leaning back and is conversing without waving their hands about you should do the same. Imagine if you were the one leaning back in a relaxed stance and the person you were talking to was leaning forwards and waving their arms around as the spoke – how would you feel? I would feel intimidated and disconnected from the conversation. Conversely if you are the one sitting forward and moving your hands around then you might feel that the other is just disinterested, lacking enthusiasm or bored.
2- Breathe to the same rhythm
Observational questions to ask yourself include – how quickly is the other breathing? are they breathing from their diaphragm or from their chest? does their rhythm change when talking about a specific topic?
If someone is breathing from their diaphragm, it means they are generally relaxed and confident. If you were to breathe from the chest, it might come across as intimidating and they may feel disconnected.
3- Energy levels
Observational questions to ask yourself include – what is the other’s energy level? are they shy, reserved or extroverted? do they use a lot of words to explain something?
For example, if the person you are talking to is quite timid and is using few words to explain something they can feel threatened or intimidated by extroverted behaviour and disconnected and uncomfortable when you are using a lot of words.
Observational questions to ask yourself include – what is the other’s tone of voice? are they speaking softly or loudly? are they speaking slowly or quickly?
If the other person is speaking in a whisper, they will not respond well to you shouting at them. On the other hand if someone is speaking loudly and quickly and you are speaking slowly in a whisper they will think you are disinterested or lacking enthusiasm.
The four areas of behaviour described above can have a massive impact on your ability to build rapport and communicate with someone. If you are someone who has always felt that when you say something no one listens, or people get the wrong end of the stick – ensuring your “in rapport” with someone can potentially help those lapses in communication.
Building rapport has also always been a key aspect in conflict resolution – hostage negotiators and conflict resolution consultants use and swear by it. If these techniques are known to elicit effective communication between enemies then surely they will make you a better communicator, so give it a go!