by Arielle Essex

In a nutshell

1. What is rapport?

The Oxford dictionary defines rapport as ‘a harmonious and understanding relationship between people’. Great leaders command such high levels of rapport that they can wield tremendous influence through their charismatic power alone.

  • Rapport skills can be learned.
  • Managers need to be both approachable and credible (able to command respect).
  • Rapport exists naturally on many levels – self, environment, shared activity, beliefs and values, group identity and mission.
  • First and foremost, you need to be in rapport with yourself.
  • You feel rapport on a deep level when you share similar beliefs and values, either with another person or with an organisation.


2. The business case for rapport skills

Some people rely too much on their intellect and expect their expertise to speak for itself. They wonder why their ideas often don’t get adopted, or why they can’t seem to get everyone to agree or follow their plan. The answer is to develop rapport skills. Rapport skills help you to

  • Convey information
  • Get buy-in to an idea
  • Motivate your team
  • Make more sales
  • Influence decisions
  • Have happier customers
  • Persuade people to share your point of view
  • Obtain thorough data
  • Communicate clearly
  • Get compliance
  • Have better relationships
  • Ensure loyalty and trust
  • Win friends and contacts
  • Gain political advantages
  • Get agreement
  • Enjoy your work
  • Get promoted.

Rapport skills are also needed as building blocks for creating credibility, authenticity, gravitas, charisma and leadership.


3. Approachability and credibility

Rapport skills encompass two different skills sets: approachability and credibility. Some managers are cold and unapproachable, and therefore unable to get the best from their team. Equally, there are managers who need to learn how and when to exercise leadership, knowing when to take control and how to do it apparently effortlessly, irresistibly and yet with charm.

  • Approachable rapport building does not just mean smiling, giving a good handshake, being friendly, engaging in conversation, exchanging pleasantries and finding common links, such as shared interests, mutual friends, goals, outcomes and so on. It must also take into account who you are interacting with, the context and the desired outcome. It requires good listening skills and keen sensory awareness of the other person’s responses.
  • The lesser understood aspect of rapport – credibility – concerns knowing how, when and with whom to exude authority, gravitas, and leadership tactics – and to do this with subtle charm. Charismatic leaders appreciate, impress and inspire others to follow them.


4. Rapport, congruence and you

However good a person may be technically at building rapport, if they are not congruent – if the rapport is not being established with integrity – other people will sooner or later pick up on this.

  • First, you must establish a congruent inner rapport with your own values and objectives. You need to know why you want to do what you do, what purpose you are trying to fulfil, and how doing your job and working with others forms a crucial part of your personal plan.
  • Rapport does not mean being nice all the time – true rapport starts with being in tune with your own highest values and objectives.
  • The pejorative connotation of ‘being manipulative’ actually refers to those people who will stop at nothing to satisfy their own objectives at the expense of everyone else, which violates the concept of rapport.


5. How do you know if you’ve lost rapport?

Easy: you experience communication that lacks clarity; instead, there’s resistance, discomfort, unease, confusion, challenges, criticism, disagreements, coldness, arguments, conflicts, stonewalling, withdrawing, hidden agendas or political power plays.


6. Basic skills: how to build rapport

Research shows that people make up their minds about each other in around 30 to 90 seconds. So it pays to make sure that you come across in the right way, particularly during those first encounters. Everything about you needs to deliver the appropriate message.

  • The more your apparel and grooming matches the expectations of the environment, the more likely you will be seen to fit in and be respected.
  • Be polite, but not so overly polite you become stilted. Use appropriate greetings, handshakes and social protocols. Consider proximity – in other words, how close you stand to other people and how you arrange seating.
  • Depending on your position, you will usually do best to match the general demeanour and energy of the group.
  • Match your speed to the person you are interacting with: thinking, breathing, talking, gestures and walking.
  • Match the general mood of the people and situation, but be ready to steer the conversation towards positive solutions, when appropriate.
  • Agree with whatever you can, according to your own values and integrity. When you don’t agree, stay silent unless it is absolutely necessary to voice the opposing view.


7. Sensory aspects of rapport

People naturally have preferences for which of the physical senses they like to use to receive and process information. If you notice what a person’s preferences are, and match those in your choice of response, your ability to achieve rapport will soar. For the purpose of rapport, there are four main channels through which people view their world.

  • Visual types see the world in full Technicolor, thinking in terms of pictures, graphs and diagrams. Since a picture is worth 1000 words, these people want you to describe what your plan will look like so they can visualise it.
  • Auditory people tune into how things are said: the choice of words used, emphasis and accent, the melody and rhythm of speech, eloquence, well-turned phrases, expressive dialogue, a well-reasoned argument and skilful debate.
  • Kinaesthetics are not content with just seeing and hearing, they also want to fully digest information in order to get in touch with how they feel about it.
  • Analytical people sort all input through a rational filter, analysing everything through logic and reason.
  • Also remember that approachability and credibility – knowing when to be approachable and when to exude leadership qualities – are crucial components of rapport.


8. Are you in rapport with someone?

People who are good at rapport are aware of the physical signals to note in the other person:

  • Breathing – low in the abdomen, at normal or slow rate (unless the conversation is animated)
  • Skin colour – normal tones, neither flushed nor pale
  • Muscle tension – relaxed jaw, relaxed gestures
  • Lips – full and relaxed, not drawn tight and set
  • Eyes – normal amount of eye contact, not staring, defocused or evasive
  • Body posture, voice tone, speed and gestures will naturally match.

If you see signals that are the reverse of the above, check out what caused the change.


9. How to get rapport on the phone

You get less than 90 seconds to achieve rapport during a phone call. The signals that rapport has been achieved are

  • The conversation flows easily
  • Each person has space to speak fully
  • You succeed in giving or receiving the message
  • Few interruptions; no awkwardness
  • You conclude the conversation gracefully.


10. Creating rapport in writing

Consider how you could easily transfer the skills of matching to the written form.

  • Is the person more of a why, what, how or what if type of reader?
  • Do they prefer more visual input or lots of data?
  • Are they very analytical/credible or quite personable/approachable?


11. When and how to break rapport

Breaking rapport can be as useful as creating it. Particularly if you are the type of person that everyone enjoys talking to, learning to mismatch can save you time and help you handle people elegantly. All you have to do is reverse all the nonverbal behaviours that led to achieving rapport. The more subtly you adopt these behaviour patterns, the more unobtrusive and elegant it will seem.

  • Break eye contact.
  • Turn slowly away from the other person.
  • Stop matching.
  • Close the papers.
  • Suggest looking at diaries.
  • Stand up or move.
  • Apologise.


12. What to do when all rapport is lost

Don’t match negative emotions, such as anger or sadness. The following five-step process will help you to handle someone who is clearly upset, in which case simple matching or mirroring will not be useful.

  • Observation: what specifically has happened as the immediate trigger?
  • Feeling: identify what the emotion is – sometimes you may need to ask.
  • Need: what is the need they have that hasn’t been fulfilled?
  • Match: how can you agree with and match that same need?
  • Request: what can be done to help meet that need now?


13. What if rapport is impossible?

You may meet people who hold such different values or have such obnoxious attitudes that rapport is simply not possible. Never match unhealthy behaviours.

  • Do your best to identify the trigger for the emotion.
  • Clearly identify a common objective you both share and keep your focus anchored to the job at hand.
  • Ensure that you continue to match and honour your own values.
  • If the organisation does not live up to your values, do you want to stay?


14. Rapport with groups

Treating groups by responding to each person individually doesn’t work.

  • Who you choose to match depends on what outcome you have and what the purpose of the meeting might be.
  • The approachable people will probably listen to you anyway, so you don’t need to focus on them.
  • Identify and focus on the credible people – the key players.
  • Vary your delivery to appeal to all the sensory types.
  • Pause to allow people to digest your main points.
  • Explain why anyone needs to know this?
  • Decide how much detail is going to be useful.
  • Cover the how questions and the what ifs.


15. Profound levels of rapport – values

The more profound levels of rapport occur when you match someone’s values and beliefs. When you tune into what is most important for someone – to what they cherish and hold dear – you touch their heart. By tapping into the source of what people are most passionate about, a charismatic leader can harness those driving forces.


16. Rapport for leaders

Charisma means having such a magnetic personality that you inspire enthusiasm, interest, motivation and respect in others by means of personal charm or influence. Charismatic people exude gravitas, credibility, authenticity, strength, allure and power. People want to follow them.

  • Charismatic leaders are often picked to liaise between people, because they can so easily talk to opposing sides and translate the message.
  • They can recognise and predict how individuals will behave, and then select the appropriate strategies to foster and maintain relationships.
  • Charisma assumes proficiency in being able to build and maintain rapport with anyone at any time.
  • Charisma should never be a substitute for technical brilliance.
  • People who have true leadership capabilities need charismatic skills in order to avoid being overlooked and ignored.

However, many industries only trust people who listen and respond with facts and analysis, rather than dazzle with charisma.


17. Charisma and understanding people

Understanding people and maintaining good working relationships begins with knowing a little bit about the different ways in which people think.

  • Research reveals that there are specific programmes – meta programmes – that show up as patterns in people’s behaviour.
  • When you identify someone’s preferences, you can also predict with great accuracy how they will react in different situations.
  • Two main groups of meta programmes concern whether people are mainly proactive or reactive.


18. Cat and dog – two basic thinking styles

An amusing and memorable metaphor to help clarify two basic types of human behavioural programming is to compare credible cats with approachable dogs.

  • The dog end of the scale represents how approachable a person is in their behaviour. At the opposite end, the cat reflects the degree of credible behaviours displayed.
  • Dogs thrive on relationships and want everyone to get along and be happy and harmonious.
  • They love learning and value expertise.
  • They are wary of and uncomfortable with power.
  • Cats are great dreamers and natural inventors.
  • They like power, seeking promotion with confidence even when they lack the competence.
  • They only respect other, higher cats.
  • Each person always has both cat and dog capabilities, but one side will predominate.


19. Cat and dog roles in business

Both cats and dogs have distinct roles to play throughout an organisation. By understanding where each type performs best, you can place people in suitable positions and understand what causes problems.

  • Cats who reach high levels may need to develop approachable dog qualities in order to communicate better.
  • Dogs who get promoted to high levels need to learn how to exude credibility and handle the big cats.


20. Mastering cat and dog charisma

Because there are specific nonverbal behaviours that reveal your underlying cat or dog tendency, you can, by changing your style of communication and adopting the appropriate nonverbals, raise your charismatic appeal in either direction.

  • First you need to have identified, in a particular communication situation, whether you have been exhibiting predominantly cat or dog behaviour.
  • Next, decide whether you need more cat or dog in order to achieve the desired effect in this communication.
  • If you want to develop the personal relationship side, increase the level of dog nonverbals.
  • If you need more respect and leadership, increase the cat nonverbals.


21. Group dynamics: a new twist on meetings

At most meetings you will have a mixed group of dogs and cats.

  • The highly people-skilled, competent dogs usually get along with everyone and they are likely to be willing to listen and want to know what everyone thinks. This means that dogs present few problems at meetings.
  • Whenever only dogs are present at a meeting, you will have excellent team work, high participation, good brainstorming, productive planning, bags of competence and lots of camaraderie. Productivity may be slow, but there’ll be a lot of fun.
  • In a room full of cats, the vying for competition and power will barely be disguised. Preference is given to delivering bullet point reports – fast, direct and to the point. Expect open challenges, criticism and conflict.


22. Charismatic group dynamics

There are over 70 nonverbal skills of handling group dynamics that are best taught face-to-face. The good news is that if you can begin practising just a few of the easy nonverbal cat and dog behaviours, your ability to influence the political dynamics of groups will be surprisingly effective.

  • If you can raise your awareness of when people are breathing in and out, you can accurately choose the right moment to speak and be heard.
  • Curiously, the people who say the least often sound much more intelligent. Cats make great use of the pregnant pause.
  • Most people make the mistake of satisfying everyone’s needs and supplying all the information necessary. Less is more. Cats like to be teased and tantalised.


23. Decontaminating hot topics

A key charismatic skill is knowing how to handle or deflect potential conflict – how not to get shot!

  • Whenever you have bad news to disclose or whenever the communication gets heated, start with ‘getting it off to one side’, preferably in some visual form.
  • Avoid looking at your listener(s) while talking about anything negative. Use a credible, level voice tone.
  • Be aware of the power spots in the room and consider seating positions.
  • At any meeting you can influence who gets more credibility through acknowledgement and ignoring.