NLP Techniques: Building Rapport Through Matching and Mirroring Behaviour

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Years ago when I was employed as a sales person, I attended a meeting with a gentleman.  From the moment I walked into the board room of this big corporate organisation, I immediately got the impression that he wasn’t really tuned in to anything I had to say.  As soon as I realised this, I started matching and mirroring his body language.  We were sitting across the board room table from each other and he had his arms resting on the arms of the chair and was tapping his fingers.  I subtly did exactly the same thing at the same rate.  He didn’t pick up on it at all but within 5 minutes he seemed much more responsive and we went on to have a great working relationship that still exists today.  

The value of non-verbal communication is still not fully appreciated in the business world, though many more executives and business people are learning and trusting that body language and simple actions can be the difference between a deal being made or broken.

Selling is really a process, not an action.  The pressure comes when we start to see selling as purely transactional.  This works okay in some situations (at a supermarket for example) – not so well in others (service businesses like hairdressing or coaching – or even choosing an accountant or financial planner).

So the first step in the process is to establish rapport – because mostly people choose to buy from those people whom they like.

Without rapport it’s harder to accomplish everything.  Most people aim to build rapport by uncovering common experiences or finding common ground.  This is fine if you have unlimited time to build rapport, or if you have a guarantee of further meetings, but it’s not so useful in a business context where you may only have a few seconds and no time for chit-chat.  Matching and mirroring (done subtly) is an almost fail-safe way of building rapport in just a few minutes.

Building Rapport

Rapport in communication is made up of three things: words, physiology and tonality and most people think that the words we use are the most important.  The secret is that they are only about 7% of the impact you make. Link to Blog on Building Rapport

Think back to a time you walked into a networking event, or a party, or some other function where you see someone that you don’t know – you have absolutely no idea who they are, you’ve never met them before, and you don’t know why but you get a funny feeling about that person, there’s just something about them that attracts you.  How do we know that we like that person? How do we make that decision? It’s based on the instant decision of your unconscious mind. Link to Blog on Unconscious Mind

Again, this is an example of our unconscious driving our behaviour – so 93% of your decisions about others, and their decisions about you is an unconscious response to tonality and physiology.  That puts tremendous pressure on you – but it also creates amazing opportunity because once you understand it, you can use this skill to create win-win outcomes with people.

What is a win-win outcome?  Well, if you tap into what’s important to another person and can deliver them the service that they’re looking for that’s a great outcome for both of you.  People don’t buy based on your experience or how long you’ve been doing what you’re doing or because your logo has pink and blue as opposed to yellow and green – at the end of the day the buying decision comes down to how it makes them feel.

Since all of this is going on inside our head, part of the art of the confident closer gets down into how you present your information so that your prospect sees the tiny fraction of the information they need to make a buying decision.  It’s ensuring that the key bits of information they need to know about the outcome will get past their filters.  Once you’ve accomplished that, their buying decision is made for them.

The art of influence is not just in the words, it’s not just in the tonality, it’s not just in the things that you choose to show them, it’s about whether you present all this in the way that they want to see it.  A sales pitch that totally convinces one person might not work at all on someone else, because they’re two different people.  The art and the skill of communication lies in the ability to find out what’s important to each particular person, and then give him the information that he desires.  However, you actually have to observe, and focus on the person to do this – you can’t just go through the motions.

Matching and Mirroring to Build Rapport

Suddenly you find all these similarities, because you like each other – you’re in rapport.  You might use the same words a lot of the time, or you might find yourself shaking your foot in the same way or  talking at the same volume, or using the same tone of voice – and all those pieces of information play a role in how much you like each other.   The reason you get along is because your body language is picking up on the fact that you’re actually the same.   So in those 11 million bits of information that are flooding your neurological system every single second, you’re unconsciously picking up on bits and pieces that match you and unconsciously make you like that person.  Most of the time this happens unconsciously, but  what if you could do it intentionally? 


It’s quite easy to match and mirror so that you gain rapport intentionally.


For example, if I was meeting with Janine and she was playing with her pen, I might get my pen and play with it in the same way, or I might position my feet in the same way that she’s got them on the floor. Unconsciously she would pick up on the fact that we’re like each other.  If you remember that physiology is a whopping 55% of communication, you’ll see why one of the quickest ways that you can build rapport with someone is to mirror their actions. 


In matching and mirroring physiology, there are many differing things you could copy – I’ve mentioned habits like tapping fingers or pens, but you can also mirror their breathing rate,  their posture, their gestures, and even their blinking.  I know the idea of mirroring someone’s blinking sounds strange, but we all blink at different rates so one of the easiest ways to match and mirror someone without making them aware of it is to actually blink at the same pace as them.


Remember 90% of our lives is lived unconsciously, so our ability to perceive our space around us is controlled largely by our unconscious.  We’re not aware of it, but our unconscious will pick up on it and decide that we actually like each other. Posture and gestures are other things that you can match and mirror.  This is something that you can easily do while you’re sitting there talking to your prospect about your product and service and if you do it properly they will never even be aware of it.

Exercise Caution in Matching & Mirroring

Please exercise caution in this and use common sense. If somebody’s got a physical impairment or a speech impediment, don’t match and mirror that aspect of their behaviour.  And that really goes without saying.

Just as important, don’t match and mirror unresourceful states like depression or anger.  If someone’s depressed, you want to try and pace them into a nicer state, rather than sinking down into a depressed state with them.

This list of behaviours that you can match and mirror is not exhaustive.  If you can think of more examples, please tell us about them in the comments.

Meta Description:  Matching and mirroring behaviour is one of the fastest and easiest way of building rapport with just about anyone.  Here are some ideas of physiology you can match and mirror.

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