A Whole New Way of Thinking About Rapport

When I started my training as a coach back in 1989, one of the most important things they taught us was the importance of rapport in relationships – that feeling of goodwill between you and your client, customer, or loved ones that both greased the wheels of any interaction and served as a safety net for any time you needed to “go out on a limb” and have difficult but potentially transformative conversations. Since that time, my respect for the importance of that feeling of goodwill has only increased. Without it, even the smallest difference of opinion can turn from a stumbling block into a brick wall; with it, the walls come tumbling down and even the most fundamental differences of religion, race, or creed need not be obstacles to progress and mutually agreed upon action.

In negotiations, rapport both allows you to disagree without being disagreeable and paves the road towards agreement. It is an invisible factor in sales, as all other things being roughly equal people tend to buy from people or companies they trust and feel comfortable with. We enjoy work more when we have an easy rapport with our colleagues and co-workers. It even has a cash value. When we had to sell my father’s business after he died, the largest line item in the valuation of his company was the “good will” between the business and its customers.

So how does rapport happen?

Well, the rule of thumb I was taught (and still hear people teaching to this day) is that “people like people who are like them”. So the most common way that people are taught to put that rule of thumb into action in old school sales and dating training is to seek common ground with their potential client, customer, or mate.

“Do you like horses? I like horses too!” 

“You’re from _____? That’s wild – I was just in  _____, just down the road from there!”

“You like the Star Wars movies? No way – I’m actually a space alien!”

While it’s easy to be disingenuous here, seeking common ground is something we all do instinctively anyways. My best friend for over 25 years attended the University of Texas in Austin; I went to Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Had we met while we were both in school, we would have been rivals; however, because we met in London a couple of years later, the Texas connection formed the initial basis for our friendship.

In more advanced trainings, this idea is taken further as people are encouraged to literally match the way they dress and even the rate and tempo of their breathing to that of the person they want to create rapport with. If you’ve ever been taught to match and mirror body language, that’s another extension of the “people like people who are like them” rule of thumb.

While I learned about all those techniques at various times throughout my career, I also always found them completely creepy. While I could never quite put my finger on it, there was something inherently icky to me about the idea that someone could be manipulated into liking me, buying from me, or even sleeping with me because I outsmarted them. It all seemed like a sophisticated version of an old joke: “My wife tricked me into marrying her. She told me that she liked me!”

One of the things I love about the inside-out understanding – that our experience of life is 100% created inside us via thought and not coming at us from the outside world – is that it makes it easy to go back to the drawing board and take a fresh look at things that the world takes for granted are a certain way. And when I took a fresh look at rapport, I saw something obvious that I had never noticed before. With all the tricks I’d learned throughout my career to try and get people to like me, I’d never stopped to notice whether or not I liked them.

Suddenly, the whole game began to change. Creating rapport – a feeling of good will between people – became an inside job. If I could find ways to genuinely like or even love people, regardless of how different we might be on the surface, that feeling would no doubt reach across the divide to them and penetrate their separate reality. I would still benefit from having rapport, but the benefits would be there whether the other person wound up liking me or not.

When I have a genuine feeling of good will towards you:

  • I start seeing our shared humanity behind the clothing of our cultural beliefs and values
  • I give you the benefit of the doubt when you behave in a way I don’t like and am more likely to speak directly to what I’d like to see done differently going forward
  • I look forward to seeing and speaking with you, and my mind will naturally generate ideas about how I can support and be of service to you
  • I like myself more, because I’m not being a “phony” when I spend time with you

In other words, I get all the benefits of the good will factor in our relationship, AND I get the added bonus of only having to live and work with people I actually like. Best of all, because rapport is now an inside-out job, other people don’t get to decide how I feel about them. It turns out that but for all our thinking about others, we’re all naturally connected up already. And if I make my desire to feel good will towards you more important than my thinking about why I can’t, that deeper feeling of affection and connection is waiting for me right beneath the surface of my thoughts.

So here’s your homework for the week:

1. Choose one person you already have good rapport with and notice how much freedom of mind you have in that relationship – how easy it is to just show up and spend time with them without a ton of thinking in your mind.

2. Choose one person you don’t have good rapport with and set the intention to find a feeling of good will towards them. Remember, this is 100% on you – you can share your mission or keep it secret, but you may be surprised at how quickly you are able to get out of your head and find your way back into your heart.

Have fun, learn heaps, and happy exploring!

With all my love,