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In the Beginning: Establishing Rapport

In the Beginning: Establishing Rapport by Rachel Hott, Ph.D. Source: Anchor Point Magazine

And in the beginning the gods said let there be rapport. Beginning? What beginning you may ask. The beginning of an NLP practitioner training of course. Whether you are an NLP practitioner, Master Practitioner, or Trainer you all had a beginning experience with NLP. Often times the beginnings are forgotten and we get involved in the middles, ends, continuations and of course revised editions. This column has been created to reinforce the foundations that were laid when you first learned NLP. In the beginning of an NLP training emphasis is placed on learning, practicing and integrating the basic techniques and presuppositions into your behavior. For the seasoned NLPer my outcome will be to review, remind and RELAX you. If you are a newcomer to NLP this is your basics column. For you my outcome is to introduce you to NLP techniques and presuppositions consciously and unconsciously.

Genie Z. Laborde in Influencing With Integrity, defines rapport as the “process of establishing and maintaining a relationship of mutual trust and understanding between two or more parties.” Basically speaking rapport is when you feel that the other person really “knows”you. You see eye to eye, feel in synch and are tuned in to each other. In order to establish, build and deepen rapport people must believe that you understand their point of view, opinion or feelings without judging them Take a moment and think for yourself, how do you know when you are in rapport with someone. (Pause, this is the relaxing portion). What lets you know? Is it a feeling you have, something you hear or see? Have you ever met someone for the first time and it felt like you had known them for years? Or how do you know when someone has established rapport with you? What did they do in their behavior that enabled you to feel understood? Rapport comes at all levels, there are some people whom you may trust and respect but you will not be lifelong friends. It is not necessary to make a deep connection with everyone. What is important is that you have gotten the message across to the other person that you can be trusted and are willing to understand them. This doesn’t mean that you agree with them. Many people maintain great rapport while they argue For example, Seisal and Ebert, two movie critics on television, thrive on disagreement.

One way to increase your level of rapport is to integrate mirroring into your behavior. The basic premise behind mirroring is that if you can match back the person’s behavior, verbal expressions and or internal feelings then you will establish rapport. Mirroring is not mimicry. It is a close approximation to the original behavior, verbal expression and or internal feeling that has been identified. Some ways to practice mirroring is to match posture, breathing, keywords and gestures and/or voice quality.

When you first meet someone matching posture is a natural way to establish rapport. It can occur in that first moment when each person is settling themselves into the interaction. In order to match, observe the person’s position and mirror-or closely approximate a similar position. Many managers tell me that they feel uncomfortable matching postures because it is not their own style. For example, a manager with whom I worked said her boss leans back in his chair with his feet straight out crossed at the ankle and his hands clasped behind his head. She felt uncomfortable adopting such a different posture then her preferred style. I recommended that she adopt his posture in a more subtle manner. The other person should feel as though they are being understood not matched. Leaning back in her chair would be the baseline. After explaining that the match is a close approximation to the mirror image, I suggested that she stretch out her legs or cross them at the knee. In regards to the hands behind the head, I suggested that every so often she should adopt that posture or at least put one hand behind her neck. She still felt uncomfortable and phoney because those postures were not hers. I told her that I understood how unfamiliar it was for her and that I just wanted her to be effective. She then said that maybe she could start with just leaning back. And so we both leaned back in our chairs and I ever so subtley stretched my legs out, crossed them at the ankles and placed my hands behind my head. “Now Pat you see how I am sitting please do what you can and feel comfortable.” Pat rehearsed the posture with me and discovered that although the posture was not in her own repertoire she was able to adopt it for the time being. She reported that after her meeting with her boss, where she matched his postures, she received a memo from him praising her for her innovative ideas. That was the first time he had ever done anything like that. Thus Pat decided that matching, albeit unfamiliar, was worthwhile for getting the results she wanted.

I remember early in my practitioner training when I matched my boss’s posture. I was asking for more money. No wonder why I remember it. He was behind his desk leaning back in his chair. I came in to his office prepared with facts. As we were discussing this issue I noticed that I was leaning forward and I assessed that our conversation was going nowhere. Then a loud voice inside my right ear said MATCH POSTURE. It felt like I was switching gears and pulling an illegal U-Turn. I leaned back and within seconds a miracle occurred. I had an agreement with him to obtain the raise I was vying for. Matching posture does not always mean that you will get a raise but it will establish rapport and when there is rapport you are closer to getting what you want.

Another way to establish, build and deepen rapport is to match a person’s breath. It is an undeniable fact that all people breathe. However how they breathe is different. For example the location of their breathing might be shallow, mid-range or deep. Their rate may be slow, medium or fast. Sometimes people will sigh or hold their breath. A way to observe the breath is to keep your eyes scanning from the shoulders down to the lower belly. If you sit next to the person it is also easier to see location and rate. Again this is a very subtle form of matching in order to establish rapport. One trainee told me that there wasn’t any way he could establish rapport with his mother because she sit very still and he felt that she would be offended if he matched her posture. When he learned about matching breathing he felt even more challenged because she was so rigid. However he worked on matching her breathing, which he said was difficult to detect except for a slow slight movement in the upper chest. He did this for several days when they had dinner together. After a week he was amazed to see his mother actually begin to shift her sitting position and interact more openly with him.

There were times when I matched breathing and wished I hadn’t. That i