You know that sense you get sometimes in a conversation? The two of you are on the same wavelength. Singing from the same hymnal. Seeing eye-to-eye. English has loads of idioms to describe that delightful feeling of rapport.
I experienced it the other day when I sat down for breakfast with a new friend. In a sense he already knew me—he’d shot a video of me speaking and long before that he’d listened to me on the radio. A lot.
That may be why I felt that I was breakfasting with an old friend. Or maybe it was just the vibe between us. Rapport occurs naturally in our interactions with some people.
Other times it takes a while for two people to get on the same page, to be in sync, to dance to the same tune. And when there’s business to be done, we may want to hasten things along.
One way to speed up the rapport-building process is to make ourselves a little bit more like the other person. But we want to do it in a subtle way. It’s a mistake to obviously imitate everything the other person does. The idea is to create a sense of accord, not to irritate them with clumsy, artificial, salesy tricks.
Can you think of somebody you’d like to connect with? You might try to match or mirror the things they do unconsciously.
Start by observing their physiology:
- Are they standing? Sitting? Slouching?
- Do they seem relaxed and at ease or tense and tight?
- Are they leaning to the right or left? Tilting toward you or away?
- Are their legs crossed? How about their arms?
- Are their hands in their pockets? Maybe they’re holding a pen or a pair of glasses.
- Is their head tilted? Which direction?
- Are their feet together or apart? Which way do they point? (If their feet are pointing to the door, you’ll need to do your rapport-building fast; that’s a signal they’re eager to get out of the conversation.)
What do you notice about the way they move?
Even when people seem, at first glance, to be sitting still, there are plenty of small movements you can pick up on.
- How do they gesture? Are their fingers splayed or close together?
- Are their gestures large/small/exaggerated/restricted?
- Are the gestures flowing or more choppy?
- Do they use gestures to describe objects or locations?
- Are they smiling? Raising their eyebrows? Pursing their lips? How does their facial expression shift?
- Do they nod their head, tap their foot, or move some other body part?
- Is their breathing quick or slower? Deeper or more shallow?
Once you pick up on your conversational partner’s habits, what do you do with that intel?
You use it to make subtle adjustments to your own way of sitting or moving or gesturing in the interest of establishing rapport. You become “people like us” with them when you shift into their posture or movement and use gestures or expressions more like theirs.
You might notice that’s the second time I’ve mentioned the need to be subtle with this mirroring thing. I remember when I was a kid, my brother would drive me crazy imitating everything I did until I yelled for Mom to make him “STOP COPYING ME!!!”
(If you have a brother, there’s a good chance he did the same thing—it’s one of their favorite annoy-my-sibling tricks.)
We don’t want our clients or colleagues or managers hollering for their mothers to make us go away and leave them alone.
But we do know that when people are naturally feeling harmony and accord, they mirror each other. One leans in and so the other does the same. They lower their voices together. Or they take a sip from their drinks simultaneously.
Neuroscientists call that “limbic synchrony.”
So, it makes sense to try a little intentional limbic synchrony. If you’re talking to someone who leans to the right (literally that is, not politically) tilt just your head in the same direction, rather than adjusting your whole body to match theirs.
If they use small, contained gestures, bring yours down to the same scale, even if more sweeping hand motions are typical for you.
If they cross their right leg over their left, cross your left leg over your right. Or cross just your ankles to approximate, but not imitate, what they’re doing.
Practice with family and friends.
Look for little ways you can match or mirror their movements and gestures or their tone of voice. And see how it affects the quality of your communication.
Notice when the other person begins to mirror you. When they lean the way you’re leaning or use sweeping gestures like yours. When they speak at the lower volume you use – those are signs that you’ve established rapport.
And take note of the times when you naturally find yourself mirroring someone without even intending to. Ask yourself how you’re feeling when that happens. Chances are good you’re very comfortable and the two of you are hitting it off. Speaking the same language. Marching to the same beat.
As you experiment with this, post a comment below and let us know how it goes.