Rapport

by Arielle Essex

Are you in rapport with someone?

Tip

Choosing the right moment to have a particular discussion can be more important than what you actually say.

What are the signs that you are in rapport with someone on a one-to-one basis? There are specific physiological signals that provide evidence that you have achieved the state of rapport. With a little practice, you can raise your conscious awareness to notice these signals. Then you can adjust your responses appropriately and know when and what to do. Think of these signals as positive indications of ‘permission’ for you to speak and deliver important messages.

Physical signals

People who are good at rapport are aware of the physical signals to note in the other person:

  • Breathing – low in the abdomen, at normal or slow rate (unless the conversation is animated)
  • Skin colour – normal tones, neither flushed nor pale
  • Muscle tension – relaxed jaw, relaxed gestures
  • Lips – full and relaxed, not drawn tight and set
  • Eyes – normal amount of eye contact, not staring, defocused or evasive
  • Body posture, voice tone, speed and gestures will naturally match.

The other person’s response

When people are in rapport, they will usually lean towards each other, looking relaxed and interested in what is being said. Their breathing and facial muscles are relaxed. They make normal eye contact, speaking and gesturing in similar ways. Think of a couple of lovers having dinner in a restaurant. They will look deeply into each other’s eyes, listening and talking so intently it seems they hang on each other’s words. They breathe at the same rate and may even pick up their glasses in unison and eat at the same time – the extremely high end of rapport.

Being aware of the responses you observe in another person allows you to adjust your behaviour and what you say accordingly. If you see all the signals of relaxed rapport, you have permission to continue talking about your subject. But if you notice someone tense up, stop breathing or start breathing high and fast; if you notice their face flush or go pale, their jaw clench and their lips tighten; if their eyes begin to dart around or avoid looking directly back at you; if they suddenly shift their whole body posture – especially if they ‘close their body’ by folding their arms or crossing their legs and turning away, then expect trouble! They no longer agree with what you say and/or you have triggered feelings of discomfort.

Of course, when a person wants to hide their reaction (common in work situations), you will only see diminished versions of these signals. You need to raise your ability to detect the smallest glimmers. Check it out immediately. Find out what part of your communication caused the change. Was it the content or your delivery?

Note

When people are frowning, they may just be thinking carefully about what you are saying. Don’t assume that a frown means they disagree or are reacting negatively. Always check it out: ask about their response and find out what they think.