- Posted: September 2009
- By: Michael Carroll
Building strong rapport
Have you ever noticed when two people who are in rapport unconsciously assume the same posture, arm gestures and rhythm of speech? Human beings seek symmetry when there is rapport. They sit in similar positions, talk in a similar way and search for common ground. In NLP we call this mirroring. In face to face communication one person is usually the catalyst for the mirroring and when that person changes posture the other person follows. You will also see mirroring occurring in small group scenarios where four or five people unconsciously assume similar postures and voice qualities. Again, one person will often be the catalyst for the mirroring in the group and when that person makes a physical or auditory manoeuvre the others will follow suit.
In NLP we define rapport as a state of responsiveness. Responsiveness means the person or people you are interacting with consciously and unconsciously respond to you and you therefore have the lead in the communication. In NLP, to achieve or accelerate rapport we begin by taking on elements of another person’s physiology and voice qualities, known as mirroring. After a period of mirroring you then move to a slightly different position than the other person who in turn will then follow to keep the symmetry that was previously there. When the other person is unconsciously following your lead, that person will accept your suggestions and ideas less critically.
Spine, leaning back or forward
Style of gestures (only when you are speaking)
Mirroring voice qualities
Pitch (within your natural range)
Speed of voice
Styles of words
Remember, mirroring happens naturally in every day communication. If you are subtle and natural it will remain out of the other person’s consciousness. If the other person crosses their right leg high across their thigh there is no need for you to do quite the same, you can cross your legs lower down if it feels more natural. It is not recommended that you mirror accents, voice pitches that are out of your range, speech impediments or twitches. In all the years I have been using mirroring as a communication tool no one has ever consciously noticed.
Technically, mirroring is where if you are sitting directly opposite someone and they cross their right leg you would cross your left leg i.e. as a reflection in a mirror. The other way is moving the same body part i.e. your right leg in this example. This is sometimes known as matching. In advanced applications of NLP matching and mirroring can have slightly different applications. At the introductory level you can use them interchangeably and I will use the terms interchangeably.
Creating Rapport through the Mirroring Process
To make it easy for you to begin with, you can match and mirror in 30 – 60 second stages beginning with the lower half of the body, then the top half, then head movements and then breathing. When you move to the next body portion you will continue mirroring the previous portion(s).
- 1. Slowly move the bottom half of your body into the same position as your client. You will adjust this portion of your physiology to keep the symmetry. As your client moves continue to match
2. Subtly arrange the upper portion of your torso in the same position as the upper torso of the other person. Continue to adapt this portion of your physiology to maintain a match with your client should he move during the exercise
3. Position your head with the same tilt both side to side and front to back as your client and imitate certain aspects of the facial expressions presented by your client. Be subtle and continue mirroring with this part of your body in the exercise
4. During the fourth 30 seconds, match the frequency, depth and timing of your client’s breathing with your own. Continue to adjust this portion of your physiology to maintain a match with your client should he move during the exercise
5. Test that you have achieved a relationship of rapport by slowly shifting any portion of your physiology into a new position. If the client shifts to that position without conscious awareness of the shift, you have created responsiveness. If not, return to step 1
As with all patterns in NLP, I strongly advise you to practice, practice, practice!
Adapted from Whispering in the Wind, Bostic and Grinder 2001