Building Rapport: Mirror, Mirror

Building RapportRapport (pronounced raˈpôr) is a relationship between two or more people in which each person is comfortable, relaxed and at ease.  Building rapport, or building relationships, is a skill that can be learned and with a little practice, will serve you well in everything you do.

Don’t be fooled by “The Digital Age”; the tide is turning and people are starting to crave a little human interaction in their commerce.  If you’re thinking that you can hide behind your keyboard, think again!  If you really want to be able to reach out and touch someone, you’re going to have to dust off your rapport-building skills and put them to use.

Think about it:  If you’re able to put people at ease and help them to feel “connected” to you quickly and nearly effortlessly, they’re going to be much more open to listening to what you have to say.

Building Rapport:  See It In Action

Have you ever been to a party or a conference, met someone, and within a few minutes you felt as if you’d known each other for years?  You found that you had a lot in common – things you liked, things you didn’t like, and the connection between you allowed the conversation to flow easily back and forth between you?  It’s a lot of fun when that happens.

You can learn how to create that kind of connection with almost anyone you meet when you master the art of building rapport.  (I say “almost anyone,” because there are some folks who are so resistant to making a new friend that you’ll never change their state of being.  Don’t even bother trying.  When you meet an “unfriendly,” wish them well and move on.)

Happily, you’ll find that most folks are more than willing to have a great time with you.  You can learn how to create an open and friendly rapport with most people that you meet by using some simple mirroring techniques.

People Watching:  Field Research

Have you ever sat in a public place – a park, a restaurant, an airport – and practiced “people watching”?  Watching people is something I enjoy; I learn more and more about people every time I do it, and I usually come away from the experience with a whole new appreciation for “us.”

If you’ve ever spent any time watching people, you’ve probably noticed that you can tell a lot about what’s going on with them by their body language.  For instance, if you watch couples together in public places you can tell who’s having fun and who’s not.

In a restaurant, two people sitting at a table, hardly speaking, hardly looking at each other, one turned away in their chair, the other with legs crossed in the other direction – my guess is that they’re not having such a good time.

On the other hand, a couple leaning toward each other, making lots of eye contact, laughing and “talking” with their hands – these folks are in rapport and obviously enjoying each others company.  And if you watch, you’ll see that they “mirror” each others body language – what one does, the other does, too.

When people are getting along together, there’s a lot of mirroring going on.  Mirroring is the technique of reflecting back the behavior or gestures of the person that you’re talking to.  You can mirror someone by simply watching what they’re doing and matching their behavior with your own.

Body Language – It Speaks Louder Than Words

Body language, or posture, is a great barometer.  It will give you clues as to what’s really going on with the person that you’re talking to.  When I teach sales and prospecting classes, I teach that 80% of any conversation is non-verbal.  (Interestingly, about 70% of any phone conversation is non-verbal…but more on that in another post.)  What this means is that the person that you’re talking to may be saying more with their body language than they are with their words.

The next time that you’re having a conversation with someone, pay attention to their posture.  How are they standing or sitting?  What are they doing with their arms?  What about their hand gestures.  If they’re sitting, are their legs crossed or uncrossed?  Are they leaned back in their chair or sitting up on the edge of it?  Are they standing close to you or far away?

What do you think is going on for the person whose arms are crossed over their chest?  What about the person who’s stretched back in chair with their hands folded behind their head?  How about the person who’s foot is tap-tap-tap-tapping?  What do you make of the person sitting way back in their chair, legs crossed, facing off to the right, with his arms folded across his chest?  And what if he says, “I’m very interested in your business opportunity.”  Do you believe him?

My mother used to say “Listen to the words, but watch the feet.”  In other words, people will tell you anything, but their actions never lie.  This guy has said that he’s interested, but his body language is sending out an entirely different vibe:  His non-verbal communication is letting you know that he’s not interested at all.

Mirror, Mirror

Once you’ve picked up on the postural cues of the person you’re talking to, mirror them!  Use your body to reflect their body’s position back to them.  After a few minutes, slowly start to open up – turn slightly towards them, move a little forward on your chair, maybe uncross your arms.  The message that you’re sending is that you’re willing to meet them halfway.

Don’t worry that you’re going to look foolish doing this or that they’ll notice and think you’re strange.  This is all very subtle on your part, and they won’t notice, but YOU will notice astonishing results.

You’ll see that they begin to mirror your posture; if you slowly mirror a more open and trusting posture, they will follow, and the end result will be a more open conversation.

If you want to see mirroring in action in a simple setting, the next time your find yourself in a conversation where you require agreement, subtly start nodding your head “yes” as you’re speaking.  Most times you’ll notice that the person that you’re speaking with will begin to nod their head in agreement with you.  (Or, you might find that you’re nodding your head in agreement with someone else!  That’s mirroring, too!)

That, my friend, is one of the many facets of building rapport.

If you’d like to learn more, there’s a whole genre of work published on the science of building rapport, known as NLP or Neuro-Linguistic Programming.   This is a good place to start.


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