The Oxford Dictionary defines rapport as “a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.”
The ability to instantly build rapport is arguably one of the most important skills in networking and relationship development.
- It will determine whether or not you’re able to maintain audience with the people you’d like to engage.
- It will determine the the quality of your communication efforts; such as the level of ease with which you can resolve conflicts, influence and persuade, and/or bond with the people that you care about.
If the quality of your relationships is important to you, then rapport and its nuances should be important to you too.
People like people who are like themselves.
In the same way that it is natural for you to let your guard down and be honest with people that you’ve known for a long time — like friends and family, it is also easier for you to interact with strangers that you consciously or subconsciously recognize in some way.
When your best friend introduces you to someone new, you’re more often than not inclined to like them or at least try to understand them, because you already trust your friend’s judgement and by extension, this new person.
People have been known to bond over shared experiences since time immemorial.
- The war veterans
- The school alumni
- The moms at a playground
- The numerous fandoms of the internet…
Having something in common with someone else, no matter how small, will naturally make you want to like them.
In a more interesting observation, research scientists have discovered that we can artificially recreate this feeling of familiarity and the accompanying goodwill and rapport by using a technique referred to as mirroring.
Mirroring is when you observe and deliberately match somebody else’s external behavior for instance their posture, tone of voice, choice of words, gesticulation and so on.
If someone leans in and lowers their voice mid-sentence, do the same. If you notice that they prefer to use the slang version of a given term, adopt it too. If they prefer shorter eye contact, try not to stare too long.
All these little adjustments will signal familiarity to their brain, put them at ease and help them trust and open up to you more.
It’s very important to note that you should never be immediate in your mirroring though. If the other person catches on, they will likely feel like they’re being imitated or made fun of, which will put them on the defensive or worse.
The key to successfully mirroring someone else’s behavior is to wait a few moments after they initiate it, so that your own repetition of the same behavior will seem natural and unstaged.
Conversely, you could initiate an overt action and wait to see if your listener will follow suit. If you’re having a great conversation, chances are they will do something similar shortly after you!
Mirroring has been used effectively by savvy salespeople, business executives, and psychologists alike.
Take this example from the New York Times:
“Robin Tanner and Tanya Chartrand, psychologists at Duke, led a research team that tested how being mimicked might affect the behavior of a potential client or investor.
The team had 37 Duke students try out what was described as a new sports drink, Vigor, and answer a few questions about it. The interviewer mimicked about half the participants using a technique Dr. Chartrand had developed in earlier studies.
The technique involved mirroring a person’s posture and movements, with a one- to two-second delay. If he crosses his legs, then wait two seconds and do the same, with opposite legs. If she touches her face, wait a beat or two and do that. If he drums his fingers or taps a toe, wait again and do something similar.
The idea is to be a mirror but a slow, imperfect one. Follow too closely, and most people catch it — and the game is over.
In the study, the researchers set up the interviews so each student’s experience was virtually identical, except for the mimicking.
None of the copied participants picked up on the mimicry. But by the end of the short interview, they were significantly more likely than the others to consume the new drink, to say they would buy it and to predict its success in the market.
In a similar experiment, the psychologists found that this was especially true if the participants knew that the interviewer, the mimic, had a stake in the product’s success.”
Now that you are aware of mirroring and how powerful it can be in building rapport, will you be using it to foster your conversations and relationships?