The magic of rapport

By Dr Alex Cheung, Master Trainer of NLP

This is the second in a six-part series focusing on various ways that neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) can be applied in today's business world.

Good rapport can be established by the conscious application of instinctive techniques

Rapport is a relationship of trust and mutual influence that is at the heart of effective communication. It is a vital part of any interaction and can basically be described as meeting individuals in their model of the world. If we can establish good rapport with another person, they will feel we understand them and, in turn, be more accommodating to our own needs and requests.

One of the fundamental ways of creating rapport between individuals is by matching unconscious body language through the use of postures, gestures, voice tonalities, volume and tempo. Matching builds rapport because it is similar to rhythm entrainment, a natural phenomenon described by Itzhak Bentov in Stalking the Wild Pendulum.

Different sized clocks with the same sized pendulums, when placed together on a wall, will gradually synchronise their swings. Discussing this phenomenon in machines and in men, Bentov concludes, "Nature finds it more economical in terms of energy to have periodic events that are close enough in frequency to occur in phase or in step with each other." Establishing rapport, therefore, seems to be a natural tendency among most people when they get together. When it is not, we can use certain skills to create it:

1. Matching body language
Many aspects of body language can be matched. These include postures, the amount of eye contact, the speed and general frequency of another person's hand gestures, and how they tilt their head.

It is important to note that matching postures must be done with subtlety to avoid irritating the other person. Be natural and do not immediately change your own body position. The intention is not to mimic, which is disrespectful, but to connect with the unconscious mind, so as to be on the same wavelength. If we simply mimic, people will soon notice and rapport will be lost.

2. Matching voice
This is regarded as the best way to establish rapport in the business world. We can match tonality, volume, tempo, pitch and rhythm. Most people are unaware of their own vocal tones or tempos and do not notice when someone matches them. It is an obvious way to build rapport on the telephone and an excellent skill to use when dealing with angry customers. This technique requires first matching voice rhythm to echo the client's urgency with our own eagerness to help. Once rapport is established, we can then get them to calm down. If you start by answering with a tone intended to placate, it is usually interpreted as a sign of indifference.

3. Crossover mirroring
This involves indirect matching. Identify a movement another person repeatedly makes and match it with a corresponding movement of your own. For example, if they cross their legs, you might cross your arms. If they nod a lot, you might tap your fingers at the same time. With practice, it is even possible to match the tempo of your voice to another person's breathing. Such techniques aim to communicate with the unconscious mind.

4. Breathing together
We should be able to rely on the other person to keep breathing! It is easy to spot their rhythm by noting movements of their chest or abdomen. Once you have fallen into the same rhythm, it is even possible to change the pace

Using these skills can earn the attention, acceptance and trust of others. At first, you may feel a little artificial or awkward. However, by "people watching" in restaurants, airports or on the MTR, you will notice that those deep in conversation naturally have the same body postures and vocal tones. NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) just makes us aware of something we all do unconsciously. If we do it consciously, we can be on the same wavelength whenever we want.

Once rapport is established, we can achieve greater success in sales, negotiations, coaching or other areas, which will be dealt with in future articles in this series.

The techniques of matching

  • The skill of establishing good rapport is central to successful communications
  • Natural techniques based on matching can be used to great advantage
  • They involve adapting voice, body posture and movements to communicate with the unconscious mind of another person
  • Applying these techniques is simply an extension of normal human behaviour

    Dr Alex Cheung FHKIE, FCMI, FInstAM, FHKIoD, FIOSH is a chartered engineer with more than 30 years experience. He has been appointed to serve on advisory boards and committees with many reputable universities and public organisations. Currently Dr Cheung is a Master Trainer of NLP and actively promoting Behaviour Psychology to unleash people's inner potential. For information please visit or contact Alex Cheung at

  • Taken from Career Times 13 August 2004
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