A recent discussion on classroom management and dealing with students got me thinking back to the training I have done with both teachers and business people on the concepts of rapport. This blog post is about rapport in one-to-one situations or in small groups; there are other techniques which can be used in the classroom which will be covered in a separate post.
Rapport can be defined as understanding another person well and being able to communicate with them. In some cases, this just happens and is a perfectly natural occurrence. We meet someone and the rapport may be instant. We find that we fall into easy conversation, we have no problem understanding what the other person means to say and we are often in agreement. This may not always be the case however, and there are certain techniques we can use to establish rapport and help the communication along.
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These can be put into different categories. Let’s start with the physical tips. One possibility in one-to-one or small group communication is to try and match gestures, posture, body language, and even our breathing. You have to be careful to make it natural and respectful so that the other person does not feel like they are being made fun of in any way. But if someone tends to cross their arms or legs, you can naturally follow their lead and it may feel more comfortable to them when carrying on a conversation with you than if you sit in a totally different position. If you observe people in public places you will usually notice those who are in rapport from their body language. They often have the same posture and may look like they are mirroring each other’s movements as well.
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The next category deals with the voice. People who know each other well tend to have the same tonality and rhythm of speech. This is not always possible to do at the beginning of a relationship but you can adjust your tempo to the tempo of others as well as how loudly or softly you speak. If you observe the other person in the communication, you will begin to notice how quickly or slowly, loudly or quietly they generally express themselves. As the person working on establishing rapport, it is your job to match that as much as possible. In addition, there may be certain slang which is common among a group and choosing certain of those slang words in your speech can help you to make the other person comfortable. For those who speak a dialect of a language, it is sometimes necessary to communicate in that dialect with others who speak it so as not to seem distant. This has to be natural however for both parties.
The last category deals with cultural customs. It isn’t possible to cover all cultural customs in a short blog post but distance between speakers and eye contact are two that can be observed and copied. Some cultures are more comfortable standing or sitting close to those they speak with and others further away. The same goes for eye contact, some people like to look others in the eye and some don’t. For those trying to set up a basis for communication, it is important to take your partners’ lead in this case and do the same.
An important thing to remember is that we all have our own models of the world. The way we see the world around us has to do with many factors including where we live, our jobs, our personalities, our upbringing, our values, etc. However, in order to establish rapport we need to try and understand another person’s model of the world. It doesn’t mean that we have to agree with them or take on their values and ideas; it just means that we need to build a bridge so that we can perhaps begin to meet them halfway. By doing this, we show willingness to learn from another person which is the first step in improved communication and will hopefully lead to rapport with them which in turn can help in both our work lives as well as our private spheres.