by Arielle Essex

Basic skills: how to build rapport

When people are like each other, they like each other. You may notice that whenever you meet someone new, you always start looking for what you have in common. The more things that match, the greater the feeling of similarity, comfort and recognition of sameness. Well, if they are just like you, they can’t be all bad, can they? It is simply easier to like someone if they share your values, likes and dislikes.

Like the old cowboys of the Wild West, you have to decide in nanoseconds whether or not this person in front of you is a ‘friend or foe’. Research shows that people make up their minds about each other in around 30 to 90 seconds. First impressions count a lot. So it pays to make sure that you come across well, particularly during those first encounters. Everything about you needs to deliver the appropriate message.

Seven things to match for rapport

Given the above, it will come as no surprise that consciously matching others is the most basic way of gaining rapport with them.


Dress for the occasion: the more your apparel and grooming matches the expectations of the environment, the more likely you will be seen to fit in and be respected. This dress code can be very conventional in some organisations and quite flamboyant in others.


Your manners should be suitable for the situation. Be polite, but not so overly polite you become stilted. Use appropriate greetings, handshakes and social protocols. Consider proximity: in other words, how close you stand to other people, whether you stand directly in front or to one side and how you arrange seating – all of these can be crucial. In the Western world, standing one arm’s length apart is usually appropriate. When dealing with people from other cultures, observe their behaviour carefully and get expert advice about correct procedures.

  • Avoid situations where one person is standing and one sitting.
  • Avoid, if you can, sitting or standing directly opposite (opposed).
  • Avoid having barriers (such as desks or tables) between you.


What should be your level of energy, your demeanour or your attitude? Take your cue from the general atmosphere. Is this a place where people are highly positive, high energy, confident, assured and standing tall? If so, match that. Or is the energy very serious, subdued, with the emphasis on facts and figures? In which case, match that.

The nature of the meeting and the purpose of the interaction will determine how you tailor your approach. For example, brainstorming requires a different energy to the quarterly financial review. So how casual or formal is the situation? Depending on your position, you will usually do best to match the general demeanour of the group.


Surprisingly, the most important energy to match is the breathing rate. By matching breathing, you not only tune into other people’s states, but you will also automatically choose the right speed, volume and amount of information. It will help you break in at the right moment for suggestions and replies. When people are speaking, they are breathing out. When they pause, they are breathing in.

Speed of movement

What is the pace? How are others speaking, gesturing and moving – fast or slow? How fast are people talking, thinking and interacting? Match your speed to the person you are interacting with: thinking, breathing, talking, gestures and walking. Whether you go too slow or too fast, if you fail to match their speed, you risk losing your listeners.


Match the loudness of your voice to that of the person you are talking to. High volume has to do with confidence and passion. Low volume may have to do with secrecy, confidentiality or insecurity. Also match the volume of content – the quantity of information they ask for and give. Do they want just the big picture overview or do they want all the details? It’s usually best to start by providing a brief outline, checking to find out if your listeners need to know more, before filling in the details.


Match the general mood of the people and situation, but be ready to steer the conversation towards positive solutions, when appropriate. If the general tone is serious, don’t barge in with a jolly joke to lighten things up. When you have an important message to convey, put your point across with credibility rather than smiling and attempting to win favour. During a brainstorming session, stay with the positive creative process and resist the urge to bring things back to reality with negative comments. At times of seasonal laughter, it may be good to down tools, join in and have some moments of respite. Variety of mood makes for a more interesting work environment.


Agree with whatever you can, according to your own values and integrity. When you don’t agree, stay silent unless it is absolutely necessary to voice the opposing view for discussion. Whenever possible, use the conjunctive ‘and’ instead of ‘but’ when stating your alternative. In fact, avoid using the word ‘but’ – remove ‘but’ from your vocabulary:

  • I respect your opinion about ‘X’ and I also think that ‘Y’ should be considered
  • I agree with what you said about ‘X’ and I‘d also like to point out...
  • I accept the facts about X,Y,Z and it is also true that...

A simple exercise

Here is an easy way to teach yourself basic rapport skills. Practise this in all kinds of situations and stretch yourself to see how much you can get away with. Great places to start are when you are at a party, in the pub, at home with the kids or talking to friends. To get really good at matching, select a stranger on the other side of a crowded room and try to match them over a long period of time to see what happens!


Observe a person you choose to be in rapport with. Take up exactly the same body posture, standing or sitting exactly as they do. Believe it or not, most people won’t notice you are doing this. Use the same gestures they do – for example, raise and lower your glass at the same time. Match the amount of eye contact they give. Match the volume and speed of your voice to theirs, pausing as long or as short as they pause. Match their breathing – high or low in the chest, fast or slow. Match their facial expression – smiling or looking serious. Match the general content and mood of conversation. Match any key words or favourite phrases they use.


  • Posture – how they stand, sit or move, especially the tilt of head
  • Gestures – everything they do with their arms and hands
  • Voice – speed, volume and pitch (high or low)
  • Facial expressions – unless they are extremely negative
  • Breathing – high or low in the chest, fast or slow, pauses
  • Content of conversation – quantity of information and mood
  • Key words – pet phrases they use, criteria and values.

Most people on the receiving end of matching behaviour report a warm feeling of connection. They feel more heard, listened to and understood. They are more inclined to like you. They may think that they already know you from somewhere. What’s even more spooky is that, after you match their movements for a while, they automatically start following your movements and matching you (this is called ‘match, pace and lead’).

There is more on the basic rapport skills in the NLP topic on Rapport.