Building rapport is a key skill that makes our relationships run more smoothly in every area of our lives so it’s worth investing some time in thinking about some key techniques that help us establish rapport as quickly and easily as possible.
I’ve written about the entire 5-Step Selling process in another post [Link to #16] so this post just focuses on the first element of the strategy.
Why Do We Need Rapport?
Occasionally people will say something like, “Rapport isn’t important in business. I make decisions on the basis of facts, not relationships.” There’s no point arguing with this perspective so I don’t, but a few minutes later, that same person will say something about ‘just not getting on with’ another person and deciding not to do business with them.
Don’t kid yourself. Rapport matters. It is rarely the only factor in your business decisions (or it shouldn’t be), but it is important. If you are selling to another person your ability to establish rapport will directly affect your success in closing the sale. However, let’s look at the bigger picture: your ability to establish rapport quickly and easily will also make every other negotiation or relationship in your life run more smoothly as well, whether it’s with your spouse, your children, family members, or friends. Rapport makes it possible to work through tense moments in any relationship and create win-win outcomes for everyone much of the time.
How Can We Build Rapport Quickly and Easily?
Most people recognise the importance of building rapport, but their strategy for doing so is rather hit or miss. In my early days, I depended mostly on verbal strategies – finding common interests, experiences and places. It worked reasonably well but it took time – sometimes a lot of time.
A while ago I was working for a company that managed events and I was selling major sponsorships and event space for a particular large project. I called on some existing relationships, pitched to the sponsorship team and my contact signed off on the pitch. He was the head-honcho marketing guy and he signed off on the deal, but the person I actually had to deal with was his Brand Manager, who was coordinating everything.
His Brand Manager wasn’t happy that $100,000 of her marketing budget had been spent without consulting her. So I went in to see her, and the atmosphere was frigid! I tried everything I knew to build rapport with this woman and nothing worked for about 20 minutes, until we eventually realised that we had gone to the same school. Suddenly, her entire face changed, the atmosphere warmed up, and we were able to move forward productively.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) teaches some techniques that help you speed up the process of building rapport – and shorten that time of tension. You won’t always need them, because sometimes you will just ‘click’ with another person, but it’s good to have them in your toolkit for when you do. After all, even great relationships have some tense moments!
We build rapport through 3 main channels of communication: our words, our tonality, and our physiology or body language. Studies show that words account for about 7% of our effect on others; tonality, 38%; and physiology a whopping 55% of our impact. Obviously I can’t cover everything that Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) teaches here, but I’d like to highlight some ways we can use this information to build rapport quickly and discreetly.
Words: – If you listen to the other person carefully you can work out whether their preferred internal representation system is visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic, and you can choose words that match and mirror theirs. Visual people highlight words that represent sight: ‘look’, ‘see’, ‘clarity’; auditory communicators will use phrases like: ‘listen’, ‘hear this’, ‘there’s too much noise’; and kinaesthetic communicators will say things like: ‘Have you grasped that?’, ‘imagine’, ‘it feels right’.
Once you’ve picked up on their preferred system you can choose those kinds of words yourself and mirror them back to your prospect.
Tonality: – Does your prospect speak slowly? Do they speak quickly? Is their voice deep, and produced in the chest or belly, or high, or mid-range? You can identify this and match it back to them (discreetly). You might want to slow your speech down, or speed it up a little to meet their preferred speed. You might also want to change pitch – please note, I’m not suggesting your speak in falsetto just because your prospect is a woman with a high-pitched voice. Always be subtle and discreet.
Physiology: – There’s a virtually endless list of things you can match in physiology. Mannerisms, gestures, posture, blinking rate, … these are just a few of the tools you can use. Once you realise that our physiology makes up around 55% of your communication you’ll probably want to be more conscious of it in yourself as well as in others.
I’ve spoken about matching the other person’s style of communication by carefully observing their words, tonality, and physiology but I want to highlight here that this is a subtle process – not a question of mimicry. You certainly wouldn’t copy everything they did – that would be uncomfortable and would break rapport. You are simply using it to open channels of communication and give your message a greater chance of being heard and considered.
In a sales situation, I might focus on one or two really subtle areas – and I would make sure that my matching tool place outside the other person’s awareness.
It’s one of those skills that is easy to learn, and that improves with time. In Confident Closing we spend one session on it, and many of our students find that they can implement it immediately – in NLP Practitioner Training we revisit it in more detail and the feedback is usually that they are doing it unconsciously most of the time, but that when people sense tension they can make a deliberate effort using matching and mirroring techniques. Generally, even the people who were concerned about the ‘manipulation’ aspect when we first discuss the techniques of building rapport come back to me and say that the thing it really helped them to do was become a better student of other people by listening and observing more carefully.
Meta Description: Rapport is sometimes called the glue that holds relationships together and makes them work. Building Rapport is a key skill for anyone in both their business or personal lives.
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