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Get in Sync with Rapport

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.

Rapport is the darling topic of NLP experts and self help gurus, going all the way back to Dale Carnegie and ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’.  But what is it really, does it have the magic it is claimed to have and, if so, how can you deploy it?   We’ll take a look at these three questions.

What is Rapport?

Rapport really exists at two levels and its power come from the interplay between the two.  At the more superficial level, it is the sense that two people have, that they understand one another fully and share each other’s concerns.  At the deeper level, rapport exists when two people have a relationship based on liking of and trust for each other.

We recognise rapport in two people who are together, when we start to notice similarities in the way they dress, their behaviour, how they speak and their movements, which often become synchronised.  We say that they are ‘in tune’ with one another, they are harmonised, they are in sync.

How effective is Rapport?

Rapport is  a natural process, which has evolved to build and strengthen bonds.  The important question is not whether it is effective, but whether we can use it to our advantage in a conscious way.  The answer seems to be yes.  Used in an artful manner, rapport-building skills are effective in domains from counselling and therapy to sales and customer service.  They are also used by con artists, so beware.

There was an excellent article in The New York Times, called ‘You Remind Me of Me’ that discussed a range of experimental evidence.

How can you use Rapport?

The basic approach to creating rapport is to match the person you are speaking with.  Do what they do and echo their movements, vocal patterns and key words.  Do so subtly (but not too subtly – it feels natural and so is rarely noticed).

Adopt a similar posture and repeat back the most important aspects of what they say – using their words.  Make your movements similar to theirs in quality and quantity, but don’t just copy them.

Speak at about the same speed and repeat important gestures and expressions, like smiling and frowning.

Build it up gradually and start to notice not only how they are more open to you, but also how much more clearly you understand what they are trying to communicate.

Further Reading

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Building Rapport with FROGS

What is Rapport?

Rapport is a harmonious relationship in which two people communicate easily and effectively.  Rapport-building is a valuable skill for anyone who wants to communicate better and influence people.

Familiar Techniques

There are many things that you can do to strengthen rapport during a conversation, and most of them reflect the things that will happen naturally anyway.  Postural matching and echoing the rhythms of speech with nods and small movements can be both subtle and powerful, for example.  These are often the focus of rapport-building training.

Other, easier techniques are often over-looked or down-played, like repeating back key words and phrases, agreeing with what you hear, and showing your approval for what is being said: human beings love to be affirmed and approved of!

Back to Basics

But one of the simplest and best ways to get rapport quickly is to establish or reinforce a common interest or experience with someone.  This simple conversational gambit is what we often do naturally when we meet a new person for the first time: we ask simple questions hoping to find something we have in common:

‘Ah, you come from Rotherham.  I know Rotherham.’

‘Oh, you worked for ABC Inc – I have done business with them.’

‘Really, you’re a fan of Sumo? Me too.’

Common ground is the easiest basis for rapport.


I was working with a group recently, which included several people with a sales background, who introduced me to a simple tool for remembering how to develop this aspect of rapport: FROGS.

Red-eyed Tree Frogs - Brian Gratwicke

Photo by Brian Gratwicke
Click on photo for original

FROGS reminds us of five sources of rapport with someone – and therefore five subjects of conversation we can use to start a meeting up and thereby build rapport.

Who do we know in common?  Ask after shared friends.  Take an interest in their friends.  LinkedIn gives you a possible route to researching this.

You could interpret this as family, if you know them well enough, or as business relationships otherwise.

Current or past organisations with which they are connected – in both formal and informal contexts.  Think about employers, professional or trade organisations.  Political and religious organisations need to be handled with care.

Place is an important anchor for many of us, so when we share connections to towns, villages or countries, it can create a strong bond.  Often there are allegiances and experiences that go with this, which can also strengthen rapport.

… or, for some people, just Sport.  But it is far better to think as widely as possible about social connections, into voluntary groups and other interests.  These are often the things people actively choose to do, so they are bound to be important to them.  Asking about them and taking an interest is therefore a strong signal of liking and respect.

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