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What is rapport?

 “Your ability to enter into each client’s model of the world so that you can give them the feeling of being totally understood.”

Rapport can be defined as that empathy, that trust, which is necessarily the foundation of all good relations. It is more commonly understood as the sense of ease and connection that develops when you are interacting with someone you trust and feel comfortable with.

When communication between two or more individuals reaches its optimum it is said that a perfect rapport has been established. So, rapport is all about effective communication. Rapport is built more on the relational level than on content – through gestures, voice tone, gaze, speech pauses, etc.

It’s not what we say, but how we say it that makes the difference.

So how do we gain rapport (and therefore trust) with people? Below are a number of techniques, many of which we unconsciously use every day.

Matching and Mirroring

Matching and mirroring are techniques that very quickly establish rapport with other individuals. Use these techniques when you want to demonstrate that you understand your client’s point of view and that you are in agreement. 

The basics of matching are:

    • I recognise your state

    • I understand you

    • I accept and appreciate you

    By matching or mirroring their behaviour, you demonstrate being on their side, and that you appreciate what they are saying.

    Matching eye contact is an obvious rapport skill and usually the only one taught consciously in English culture. Beware using this in some cultures e.g. strict Muslim men would not take kindly to women matching them unless they are related to them.

    Match body language sensitively and with respect. Notice how the person is sitting and slowly begin to adjust your body to match their posture. Notice the angle of this person’s spine – is it very upright or slightly leaning to one side or to the front? Notice if their head is tilted to one side or straight. The goal is to slowly and unobtrusively approximate their posture.

    Subjects will more or less unconsciously see themselves being matched and you will be able to understand their state of mind. When a person is sitting on the edge of a chair, leaning forward with all his muscles tense, it is impossible to understand what he is feeling inside if you are stretched out on a sofa completely relaxed!

    You can match any behaviour you can observe, for example:

    • Body posture

    • Hand gestures

    • Head tilt

    • Vocal qualities (pace, rhythm, tonality)

    • Key phrases

    • Blink rate

    • Facial expression

    • Breathing rate

    The terms matching and mirroring are used interchangeably in NLP.

    Mirroring is as if your client was looking into a mirror and, unconsciously they feel accepted because they think they are facing someone just like them, they feel they have approval. On a basic level, we like people who are like us. To mirror a person who has raised his right hand, you would raise your left hand (i.e. mirror image). To match this same person, you would raise your right-hand (doing exactly the same as the other person).

    One basic difference between mirroring and matching is timing. While mirroring is simultaneous with the other person's movements, matching can sometimes have a 'time delay' factor to it. For example, if someone is gesturing while talking and making a point, you can be still and attending. When it is your turn to speak, you can make your comments and your point using the same, or similar gestures. 

    Matching and mirroring are very powerful rapport techniques, however, a few notes of caution:

    • Matching is not the same as mimicry. It should be subtle and respectful.

    • Matching can lead to you sharing the other person's experience. Avoid matching people who are in distress or who have severe mental issues.

    • Matching can build a deep sense of trust quickly. You have a responsibility to use it ethically.

    There are other types of matching:

    Cross-Over Matching is where you match one of the other person’s behaviours with a corresponding, but different movement.

    For example, if a person is blinking rapidly, you may cross-over match by discreetly tapping your finger at the same rate as they are blinking; or pace the rhythm of someone's speaking with slight nods of your head. If a person’s breathing pattern is a lot faster or slower than what would be comfortable for you to match, you can match the same rhythm of breathing by a rocking motion of your body, or by moving your foot or finger at the same pace. 

    Mismatching is also a useful skill to master for when you wish to break rapport.

    For example, you can break eye contact by looking at your watch or brushing an imaginary piece of fluff off your arm. You can turn your body at an angle to them or If you are both sitting, you can stand up. You may choose to mismatch with your voice by speaking faster or louder. You will be surprised how quickly and easily the conversation will draw to a close.


    Nothing is more vital to us than the voluntary and involuntary inhaling and exhaling of air. But we seldom think about it. The synchronisation of breathing is one of the oldest rapport building techniques on record. You may have noticed that when two people are in deep rapport, they breathe in unison. 

    Breathing has a tremendous impact on mood and state. You can pace and match your client’s breathing patterns. When you copy a person’s breathing depth and pace, you can feel what they are feeling and you can notice some unspoken information. They may reveal their sensory preferences, they may reveal stress with shallower and faster breathing or they may indicate satisfaction and comfort by slower and deeper breaths.

    Voice Matching

    A person’s tempo (speed of speech) and tone (tonality) can give further clues about their sensory preferences and offer some great opportunities for establishing and building rapport.

    Visual people are often rapid speakers. They have a clear picture in their head and will want to describe it in great detail, hence their speed. They may jump from topic to topic and may speak in a high-pitched manner.

    Mainly auditory people have a rhythmic, even, level and musical tone. They can go to great lengths when describing something; they love lists and enjoy making their points in sequential order.

    Kinaesthetic people like to talk very slowly. There may be long pauses as they go inside their mind to access exactly the right information, and it is important not to interrupt them during these pauses. Their tonality is frequently deep and resonant.

    Pacing volume is also a useful tactic. Someone who speaks softly will appreciate someone else who speaks softly. Likewise someone who speaks loudly will often have more respect for you and will recognise a kindred spirit if you match their volume.

    The Verbal Language of Rapport

    Matching verbal communication strongly influences the depth of rapport you establish with another person. You must speak their language and you can pick up clues about their main sensory preferences from the words and phrases they use.

    Visual – words used, “I see what you mean,” “This idea looks good to me,” “ I want the big picture …… we’ll focus on details later,” “ My point of view is….,”

    Auditory – words used, “ Tell me again….I’m not sure I heard you right,” “That sounds like a good idea,” “Let me use you as a sounding board for an idea I have,” “ Yes that’s clear as a bell,” or, “Something just went click in my mind.”

    Feeling – words used, “I sense what you mean,” “That idea feels right,” “I can’t get a handle on this concept,” and “He’s the kind of guy who can take an idea and run with it.”

    The more you use your client’s vocabulary, the easier it becomes to reflect their model of the world and to create rapport. So you must be flexible in your own communication.

    Having the flexibility to use words, phrases and images familiar to other people is important. However, don't mimic other people's accent or speak a jargon you don’t have mastery of!


    The process though which an individual contributes to building rapport with someone else is called pacing. Pacing someone’s mood, his gestures, his facial expressions, means to tune-in with his present state of being. We observe in him a given way of relating to the world, a given way to act (and therefore: live and experience) his body – through posture, breathing, etc. – and we assimilate all this and we emulate it. This allows him to feel empathy toward us, and also offers us the chance of putting ourselves in the other’s shoes and to look at the world from his perspective, to somehow share his ongoing experience – or at least the way he experiences what he experiences, in shape more than content. When you act like another person, you begin to feel many of that person’s feelings.

    When pacing you’re telling the other person that you’re alike and this creates rapport and with it an atmosphere of trust and credibility.

    Many people find that speech rate is the easiest thing to pace initially. Listen to the rate of people’s speech and reproduce it in your conversations with them. After a short while, you’ll find that you can do this without even thinking about it. Speaking rates vary considerably. Some people speak slowly, pausing to find the words or phrases. Others speak rapidly and seem to have no trouble at all finding words, the only difficulty they seem to have is in getting the words out quickly enough. If your style is to speak more slowly, you might have difficulty pacing a rapid speaker, but with practice it can be done. You’ll find that your thought processes alter as you change your speech rate. This is one of the most effective ways you’ll ever find to approach another person’s mind. After you’ve become adept at pacing, you’ll begin to notice that you’ve become much more adept at anticipating what the other person is about to say. What happens when this occurs is that you have so attuned yourself to the other person’s way of speaking, thinking, and behaving that you are able to engage in a form of mind reading. The two of you will become one, so to speak.


    Once you have established rapport, you can lead your client forward. Your client enjoys the feeling of being in rapport and will want to sustain it. If you have been talking slowly and in a low tone to match your client’s speech patterns, you will find that when you speed up slightly and lift your tone, your client will follow suit. As your speech becomes faster and more positive, their’s will too.

    Before trying to lead someone it’s a good idea to find out if you’ve effectively established rapport. This can be done unobtrusively at the non verbal level by synchronising with some aspect of their body language, such as posture. Mirror the other person for a short time (a few minutes are sufficient). Then change your posture and wait to see if they respond. Their response could be a move to mirror your new posture, or it might be a shifting, a settling in on their part to restore balance to the system. What you are looking for here is a congruent, or complementary, response by the other person. Then you can successfully lead them into new areas of experience, or where you want them to go.

    Active Listening For Building Rapport

    An important strategy in effectively communicating what you mean to another person and ensuring that you understand what the other person means is active listening.

    To listen actively to another person means that you learn to see, hear, and feel in the same way that he or she sees, hears, and feels. In effect, it is another form of pacing, of establishing rapport. Active listening can be enhanced by using some of the techniques described earlier. So, by pacing or synchronising, your mood, body language, speech rate, and breathing with the other person, you achieve strong rapport while maximising mutual understanding. In addition, by matching sensory preferences you further ensure that you and the other person are communicating on the same level.

    By using active listening techniques, you can reach closer mutual understandings with others. Active listening involves a reflection back to other people of what you understand them to be saying. Sometimes when you paraphrase what you think someone has said, they will modify or clarify what was actually intended.

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