Rapport: What It Is and Why You Care

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After the last couple of emails about some very specific ways to establish rapport, it occurred to me that I hadn’t defined it, or described its importance. Let’s dive into that now and be clear on how, where, and why you care (a lot) about the ability to have rapport, and even to be able to turn it off at will.

John Grinder, the co-founder of NLP, said you need three things to do NLP. You need:

  • Rapport
  • An Outcome
  • A Ritual

Merriam Webster defines rapport as a friendly harmonious relationship, especially a relationship characterized by agreement, mutual understanding, or empathy that makes communication possible or easy. In our NLP Comprehensive Glossary we define rapport a little differently, as a condition in which responsiveness has been established, often described as feeling safe or trusting or a sense of being understood.

Notice that the first definition presumes some amount of affinity or affection. Rapport as we use it in NLP does not presume or require either. That’s right, you don’t have to like someone or be liked by someone to establish and maintain rapport.

The reason for establishing rapport with someone is to be able to influence the outcome of your communications. If you don’t have rapport, if you don’t have a connection, a relationship, no one cares what you want. Without rapport you’re limited to coercion, which has a very big limitation: it works only as long as you can enforce it.

In the last couple of emails, I gave you specific ways to establish rapport over the phone and video or in person. Those are good “hows” and links to them are right here

And once you’ve learned how to establish rapport, you also know how to break it. That’s very useful when you want to end a conversation and move on. It’s a very useful skill when someone is talking past the point of interest and you want to gracefully end the conversation.
And again, it’s not about getting somebody to like you. Believing that is a severe limitation and is doing yourself a disservice.

A few years ago I was walking across a parking lot at a resort with my little dog on a leash. About a hundred feet away I noticed this guy walking towards me. He was a bald guy about 6 inches taller and maybe 70 or 80 pounds heavier than me. I noticed the expression on his face, the corners of the mouth tilted down, concentrated wrinkles between his eyes, head tilted down, glancing at my dog, and then back at me. Now for all I knew, he might be reminded of the loss of a favorite dog of his own. Or just be curious about my dog’s breed, or wondering about his understanding of the resort’s rules.

So to presuppose aggression or anger or curiosity or anything on his part would be interpretation, and I really didn’t know what he was about. Presupposing or mind reading his attitude would limit me. What if he was actually amused by my little dog? Simply raising my alertness and directing my attention allowed more flexibility of response. So while I couldn’t add six inches and 80 pounds, I could start matching his posture and expression and the pace of my walk to match his.

When he approached me he said, “Don’t you know that dogs aren’t allowed here?”

I responded in the same voice tone, volume, and paced his speech replying: “It says right on that sign at check-in that assistance dogs are allowed.”

“Oh. Well if that’s an assistance dog you have to have a permit!” he replied.

I responded, “When I checked in at the office they said it was fine,”

He said, “Well you’re supposed to have a permit that she carries around.”

I said “Well, that’s news to me. I’ll check on that. Thanks.” Nodded my head to further indicate we were agreed and the conversation was over, and I walked on by.

That was rapport. We had a connection with responsiveness. We exchanged information about a subject on which we disagreed. And we both left satisfied. Well, I was, anyway.

So you see, rapport does not require liking someone to be effective. Establishing rapport is a means of gracefully gaining permission to introduce your outcomes for the relationship. Rapport is essential to make a connection that engages you and invests other(s) in your outcome. The ability to break rapport is also useful to escape a boring conversation.

So next in this little series we’re going to discuss outcomes, and then of course lots and lots of rituals, aka NLP patterns or processes.

Be well, go play with this, please!


PS: And if you’re a US citizen, Please Vote!

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