TEDx: Rethinking Rapport

By Jason Linett

As requested, I’ve shared a full transcription of the presentation below.

Have you ever had that experience where you had an instant connection to someone new?

The moment you met that person, perhaps it was as if you were connecting with a friend, someone you’ve known for a long time. On the other hand, what about those times you knew you were out of sync with somebody? Your communication and interaction were just not meshing? What if there was a way to empower these human connections on purpose? Imagine. Allowing your communication to become more influential and perhaps even a little hypnotic.

It’s time that we rethink rapport. Rapport is defined as the relationship between two people. It’s a positive flow of communication. It’s that feeling of harmony. However, it’s often believed that, if you have rapport, you have the ability to influence in sales or business. Some would have you believe that, if you have rapport, a person is more likely to buy your product or your service.

It’s time that we update this thinking. Consider this idea, a person could be defined by having two specific states of mind, a problem state and a solution state. When they’re focused on challenges and obstacles, they’re in that problem state. And when they’re focused on ideas, strategies, and outcomes, they’re in the solution state.

The fresh idea that I suggest to you is this, empower your communication to build rapport with that solution state, and learn to respectfully interrupt rapport with the problem state. As the strategies to build rapport were not invented, they were discovered by tracking people who were already in rapport with each other, three simple techniques were discovered.

First of all, there’s mirroring. You allow your body to move and react as if like a mirror to that person’s physicality.

Their right becomes your left. And as you observe their actions, you begin to move, and breathe, and focus your attention at about the same pace as if like a mirrored reflection. There’s something hypnotic about mirroring.

Second of all, there’s matching. This is like mirroring, yet you now abandon that mirrored concept. So, if they gesture with their right arm, you can also use your right arm. Though, take note, this is not just about movements. You can match the rhythm of their speech, the pace of their breathing as you open up that full sensory awareness, you open up that full peripheral vision to truly get in sync with that person in front of you.

As you put these techniques to use, you empower yourself to build feelings of rapport in your communication. As these strategies are even more subtle and, therefore, even more effective as they’re less likely to be consciously noticed.

Inside of these strategies is that hypnotic ability to appeal to a person’s subconscious processing.

You’re triggering that part of their neurology to move, and behave as if that rapport were already there. Once again, these techniques were not invented, they were discovered by tracking people who were already in sync with each other.

In fact, if you’re doing it right, part of your mind may be wondering if you’re matching them or if they’re matching you.

Next, there’s crossmatching.

This strategy is so subtle as you now allow your movements to match the style of their physicality. If they gesture with their arm, you can begin to lean in that direction. If they sit with their legs crossed, you can place one of your hands on top of the other. The idea is to match the rhythm, the style or, as I would say, the flavor of their physicality.

Once again, these techniques were not invented, they were discovered. And inside of this crossmatching strategy comes the ability to delay your matching. Basically, step into the mindset that you’re building a toolbox of their gestures, their movements, and specific word choices. And when the time feels right, feed them back on a delay. This delayed crossmatching strategy is often the most effective of all these techniques.

However, this is important. With all of these strategies, do not mimic the person. For example, if they have an accent, don’t attempt to copy their specific dialect. However, you can match the musicality or pacing of their voice. Again, the best way to think of this is to ask yourself, “What rhythm is this person running at?” and then modulate your characteristics to match theirs. This is where small talk is no longer just small talk, as there’s value in a brief bit of light conversation, it allows you to engage in conversation, calibrate to their rhythm, and then put it to use.

Rapport is truly established, again, once you both feel in sync with each other. If you’re doing it right, part of your mind may be wondering if you’re matching them or if they’re matching you. Inside of all these strategies, the intention is not to trick somebody into knowing, liking, or trusting you. The real intention is to build greater human connections by stepping briefly into someone else’s model of the world.

As you put these techniques to use, you empower yourself to build feelings of rapport in your communication. To create it on purpose, rather than just wait for it to happen, as rapport is an incredibly, incredibly powerful thing. In 2001, there was a study at Brigham Young University that demonstrated that rapport was the most important variable in therapeutic change work.

The actual techniques being used only accounted for, like, 15% of the therapeutic impact. Later, in 2015, a similar study at Manchester University demonstrated that, whatever the therapy, it was the relationship between the practitioner and client that most affected the positive impact of the outcome. So yes, become skilled at the techniques within your profession.

Yes, develop mastery at the work that you do. But recognize the power here, rapport has the ability to transcend technique. Though, not just in one-to-one communications and therapy, this also applies to business. It’s common for a business owner to continue working with a higher-priced vendor because of that feeling of safety and security that comes from people that they already know, like, and trust.

Though, perhaps this goes beyond human connections. Think about animal training. A few years ago, I had the good fortune to visit this beautiful wildlife habitat, gorgeous day, and I soon found myself staring eye to eye with a wolf. And to my surprise, this giant ball of fur and teeth was quickly running toward me. I was frozen in terror until that thing was licking my face like a happy puppy.

These animals, they’ve been trained since birth through positive reinforcement. When the animals responded favorably, they were met with praise, eye contact, and treats. And when they did not respond, they were not punished, they simply received no reinforcement. The wolves then became ravenous for attention, and they reverted back to following instructions.

Note what happened here. They built rapport in that solution state, and they respectfully interrupted rapport in the problem state.

And somehow, the story of a ravenous wolf licking directly correlates to my career as a professional hypnotist. This was the perfect experience to transition into a career in hypnosis. Of course, don’t let the word hypnosis scare you.

I spend a lot of time with top performers in business and even professional athletes. And many of these successful people, they’ve already been hypnotizing themselves for years. You probably already do a version of it yourself, you just call it something else. Create a visualization. Getting in the right mental state, getting in the zone. No matter what you call it, it’s that ability to purposefully get into that desired frame of mind.

Using this technique builds rapport with your solution state. It produces positive changes in your thinking. It’s about stepping into your more empowered future identity. So, now that you’re in the zone, what about communicating with other people? You know that experience where you ask somebody a specific question, and they respond but they don’t really answer you?

You ask them, “How would you like things to be different?” or perhaps, “what result would you like to see in the coming year?” Very often something surprising happens. They freeze. Their parasympathetic nervous system takes over. Their eyes begin to dart around, this is called a transderivational search. It’s as if they’re looking inside of their own brain for the answer, then their eyes often land up to the left in that moment.

It’s as if they’re accessing old visual memories, old pictures in their mind. Rather than answer the question with the outcome that they’d like to achieve, they revert back to a story from the past of how things used to be. Rather than go with you into that solution state, they revert back into that problem state.

They respond, “Oh, it was so difficult last year when this thing happened,” or, “Oh, I tried this other approach before, but that didn’t work.” It’s time now to let your communication become even more positively influential. Shift them out of the problem state and back into the solution state. This is where it’s time to apply the strategy of rethinking rapport, Interrupt the rhythm that you’ve already established.

Consider breaking eye contact, changing your pace of speech, moving in some new way. These subtle shifts interrupt that pattern that they’ve reverted to. Decide now to purposefully get out of sync with that person you’re speaking to.

You’ve learned about matching. Consider this strategy mismatching.

Either feedback no energy, like the story of the wolves, or experiment with breaking the rhythms you’ve already established. Here’s how this works. Once you feel out of sync, that the harmony is interrupted, not necessarily broken, you can then re-engage their eye contact, step back into that report state, and simply ask the original question all over again.

“So, how would you like things to be different?” Magically, they often begin to respond the desired way. Continue now to match and mirror their solution state as you focus them on their own positive outcome. Establish and enhance rapport as you focus them on the direction that they wish to go.

Test this out for yourself. The first time you purposefully shift that rhythm of rapport back on track in a mutually beneficial way, you will feel as if you pulled off some kind of Jedi mind trick. Though, not just one to one, this also applies to group dynamics. Match and mirror the energy of a group as one united team. And if they get into that problem state, mismatch the group, and then navigate them back on track.

You’re building what can often be called a bit of a propulsion system, an engine that can be used to shift energy from one direction to another.

Rather than build rapport with the person or group of people as a whole, build rapport with them in that mutual direction that they wish to go.

Rethink rapport and we can build greater human connections.