What does Building Rapport mean?
Rapport is a relationship of trust, sympathy, respect and understanding. It is essential for good communication as it ensures that others are open to your views and ideas. It is a situation where you know you are being listened to. Rapport is when two people connect – when they ‘click’ or ‘hit it off’ – when they understand and like one another, even though they might just have met.
Therapists, counsellors, businessmen, sales people, trainers and educators all understand the importance to their work of building the trust and empathy that is rapport.
I’m sure you have seen two friends sitting at a bar or table and its obvious they like and understand one another. Their body language matches and mirrors that of the other – they use similar gestures, make and hold eye contact, and eat or drink at the same time. They are relaxed in one another’s company. If you could overhear their conversation you would notice that they use similar words and phrases, and their voice tone, rhythm and talking speed all match. They are in rapport with one another.
So, if you are going for an interview, wouldn’t it be useful to know how to go about building rapport with your interviewer? Wouldn’t it be useful to know that you can deliberately connect with the other person and know that they are really listening to you, and are sympathetic to you?
How to build rapport
Knowing what happens when two people are in rapport gives us an idea of how to go about building it. The signs of rapport discussed above give an indication of what we need to do to build rapport. However, rapport is a relationship between two people – you and another. For rapport to exist or be established, both people need to be doing certain things, and you can only control your side of this relationship (at least initially). So you need to take their cue and follow their body language, words or voice. Here’s how:
Match or mirror aspects of their body language, in order to build rapport
When two people are in rapport, they match and mirror one another’s body language. To match another person, tapping their left foot for instance, you would tap your left foot too and at the same pace. If they gesture with their right hand, to mirror them you would gesture with your left hand – it should look as if their gesture was done in front of a mirror! The intention is not to fully mimic the other person as that may well be offensive to them. Rather, what you need to do is pick up on some aspect of their body language and adopt it yourself.
For example, look at their posture. In an interview, you most probably will only see the upper part of the other person’s body. How are they sitting? How do they hold their head? You can easily adopt the same posture without it being consciously noticed.
Most people use gestures when they speak. Unless the other person’s gestures are so unique that it would be obvious if you copied them, you can use a similar gesture. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same, just similar.
People have different breathing habits. They breathe at different rates and from different locations. Some breathe in the top of their chest, others in the middle or down near the abdomen. They can breathe fast or slow. Watch people and notice their breathing. Practice breathing the way another person does, both in terms of the location and the pace. Then you will be able to match other people when you need or want to.
However, do not try to match a person who breathes very fast or very slow – this could be both uncomfortable and dangerous for you. Instead, match the rate of their breathing with your finger – lift it as they breathe in and lower it as they breathe out. Your gesture will be in rhythm with their breathing.
Words and voice tonality can also help with building rapport
Notice the words and key phrases that people use. Again, without actually fully mimicking them, use the words they use when you talk to them. Subtly include their key phrases in your own conversation. You could also occasionally repeat their sentences, especially when they ask you a question. Repeating their sentence will seem as if you are considering it before you answer, but done at the same pace and rhythm can be a rapport builder.
People speak at a particular tone, pace and rhythm. You can adopt these too, but its best not to do all at the same time as this might sound like you are mimicking them. Try talking at the same speed as the other person. Or adopt a similar tone. You don’t have to get it exactly right – a movement towards their tone, speed or pace will build rapport.
Smile! An easy way to build rapport
The easiest way to build rapport is to smile! Smiling at someone usually produces a smile in return. When both people are smiling – when they are doing the same thing – they are in or on the way to being in rapport. However, unless you already smile a lot, you will need to practice until you do it naturally. Attempting to turn on a smile when you don’t usually smile might end up like a snarl! People who smile frequently are generally liked by other people – people like to be smiled at. Smiling also increases a person’s level of happiness. So, smile, smile, smile!
Some of these techniques for building repport come naturally to people and others need to be practiced to build proficiency. Take them one at a time and practice them. As you become more familiar with them, you will be able to productively use these techniques when they are needed. Try these techniques when sitting on the train or bus – you may be pleasantly surprised by what happens – you may even make a new friend!