The Concept of Rapport

 Rapport and NLP

Inspired by Desmond Morris´s book “People watching”, I like to spend time sitting on benches or in coffee shops to observe human interaction, and it is truly fascinating. Some people perform a true dance of being in sync, their movements match, their breathing is the same, and their body language displays similar movements , whereas others show completely different breathing and movement. Sometimes I am even close enough to hear the words of the conversation, and can then see how the relationship suffers from the other person “para phrasing” what was said. At the end, what I see and experience here is the unconscious power of rapport.

Rapport is defined as the most unconscious of human interactions and refers to a state of being in sync or alike. You can be in rapport with a person you do not like, yet the quality of rapport is usually much better with people that you do like. With friends it happens automatically! Just notice how friends tend to adopt the same body posture, and once one moves, the other follows.

The interesting question now is whether you can create rapport on purpose with anyone. The answer is a bright and happy “YES!”. But how? After the massive run on body language in the 70s, almost everybody knows about mirroring and matching. The basic idea is to mirror (imagine being opposite of a mirror) the body language of the person opposite of you. Matching is already more subtle (person moves right hand, you match and move your right hand), yet still quite detectable as such. Isn´t there a sneakier way?

Cross matching means matching a movement of one part of the body with another. So, if someone sits opposite me and crosses his legs, I fold my arms. Or maybe, he is tapping his foot the whole time, so I tap my fingers in the same rhythm. Once you really get into this, you can also match the pulse and breathing rate, which creates incredible rapport very unconsciously.

So much for non verbal rapport, now what about the words? Well, although the words we speak do not amount to much, they are very powerful. We are taught in school to paraphrase for understanding, when we should be taught also to feed back for rapport. When someone talks to me about “this massive stone on his shoulders”, talking about “this thing he carries around” is not creating understanding. Instead, I feed back the metaphor, simply because it is not important for me to understand, and yet it makes the person believe that I do, simply because I use his words.

People give you their metaphors all the time, left and right, and using them creates a feeling of understanding and trust that is immense. Stop paraphrasing and start using them instead. Who are we to change the words and thus the understanding of somebody else´s experience, just like that?!

Rapport for me is something I feel. I feel when I am in rapport and when not, and more than that, I can also see it. Rapport is useful for creating responsiveness to new ideas, so it is a good starting point when you want to influence someone to change their opinion. All I can recommend is to go out to the next coffee shop, sit for an hour and notice how we do it all the time, and feel free to write back with your findings…


One thought on “The Concept of Rapport

  1. Matt says:

    Great article! Personally, for me, I prefer to see the “mirroring” of body movements as a consequence of rapport – processing power spent on mirroring reduces the conscious attention to what the person is saying, verbally AND non verbally.

    I find that rapport is gained quickest by being deeply and genuinely interested in the other person, and accepting them exactly as they are right there at that moment. When I do this (I try to do it all of the time), rapport is instantaneous – like you I feel it and notice their reaction… then the mirroring happens all by itself, and the conversation is just great, because everyone has something interesting to teach me.

    There’s more on my blog here: about my view of rapport.


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