by Arielle Essex

When and how to break rapport


Learning how and when to break rapport, without giving offence, is an essential rapport skill.

Surprisingly, you don’t need rapport all the time. You also don’t need to worry about building rapport when you already have it with someone. For the most part, you need to learn how to get rapport when you don’t have it or the ensuing poor communication will cause trouble. When you get good at practising rapport skills, you’ll probably find that your natural ability to be in rapport with yourself and others greatly increases.

When could using rapport be a waste of time

There are times when breaking rapport is crucial. Some people get so good at creating rapport with others that conversation flows too fluently and they forget how to bring it to a close. So they end up listening to story after story, or hearing more detailed information than they ever needed to know. Either they are afraid to offend by disengaging or they don’t know how to finish an interaction gracefully. Time gets wasted. Appointments or meetings over-run. Work doesn’t get done. Irritation and boredom step in. Then people risk having to break off quite abruptly, which causes bad feelings.

The ability to break rapport by using simple skills of mismatching can be a lifesaver. You can elegantly give people nonverbal signals that it’s time to move on, finish the appointment and bring things to a close, without ever saying any words to that effect.

Avoid buyer’s remorse

Until you’ve practised matching and developed expertise at building rapport, you may not fully appreciate just how powerful this is. However, the subtleties will be familiar to those who are involved with sales. In a good sales interaction, there will be high levels of rapport, ideally with the sales person facilitating a good match between the buyer’s needs and his product. But it is most important to break this rapport at the crucial moment!

Because the buyer may feel such rapport with the sales person, it is vital to break this rapport before signing the contract. Why? There’s a danger that the buyer might sign without having fully thought the whole process through. They may feel that they got carried away by the good feelings generated by the sales person. Afterwards, when the buyer has time to think about it, they may suffer buyer’s remorse. By simply breaking rapport and giving the buyer some space to make their own decision, you can achieve more mutually satisfactory sales.

Elegant mismatching to break rapport

The ability to break rapport can be as useful as knowing how to create it. Particularly if you are the type of person that everyone enjoys talking to, learning to mismatch can save you time and help you handle people elegantly.


If people like to bring you their problems and leave their monkeys on your desk, you need to learn how to use mismatching.

Bringing a conversation to a natural close, disengaging from a hot topic, finishing an interaction, ending a meeting and saying goodbye can all be done very gracefully by mismatching.

It is simple. All you have to do is reverse all the nonverbal behaviours that led to achieving rapport. The more subtly you do this, the more unobtrusive and elegant it will seem. Sensitive people will pick up the first few signals. With oblivious people, you may need to run through the whole list.

Seven ways to mismatch

1. Break eye contact

Look away more often, while maintaining the conversation. Stop nodding your head in agreement.

2. Turn slowly away from the person

Start with one foot, then gradually turn the leg, and then your whole body towards the door you want to exit from. Step back subtly to increase the distance between you and the other person. Alternatively, if you are seated, lean back and turn your gaze to the papers on your desk or glance at something that will give an unconscious message that there’s something you need to be getting on with.

3. Stop matching

Stop matching both movements and conversation flow. Answer more abruptly, without giving the other person conversation cues (uh huh, yes, oh really) and don’t ask any further questions that require them to respond.

4. Close the papers

Close your folder or computer – whatever you may have been working on together – and put things away in your briefcase. Clear the table. Throw away debris. Put out a visual signal that the meeting has come to an end.

5. Suggest looking at diaries

Begin to look at possible dates for the next meeting.

6. Stand up or move

Stand up, if you are seated, or move your chair back in a definitive manner. Physically move your body and take a small step towards the door, if you are standing.

7. Apologise

Apologise for having to end the meeting and give an excuse about another pressing commitment. Show them the door!

When you use these mismatching behaviours, most people will pick up the clues quickly and realise it’s time to close. That gives them the signal to wind up. This avoids those awkward situations where one person is still talking animatedly and the other abruptly finishes the conversation. No one loses face and there’s no risk of delivering the unconscious message that you are not interested in what they are saying. It also saves time and avoids long, unnecessary conversations that lead to irritation and boredom.


Mismatch to break rapport

If the sceptical part of your mind can’t believe that matching really works, try this out as an experiment with someone who you know will forgive you. When you experience the power of mismatching, you’ll appreciate the subtle power of matching more.

  1. Sit down and ask a friend or colleague to tell you about their favourite holiday. As they start talking, at first match them with physiology, gestures, breathing and ‘uh huhs’, to get them going. Create a good, warm, friendly atmosphere.
  2. Then cross your legs and pick up your foot to look at the bottom of your shoe. Regardless of what’s there, become totally fascinated with your shoe, maintaining full eye contact with your shoe and fiddling with it non-stop. If the person questions you about what you are doing, just keep saying ‘I’m listening, do carry on’. An alternative to fiddling with your shoe would be to examine your fingernails – care must be taken to focus eye contact completely on your hands – again, fiddling with them helps. A typical office scenario version would be to have them keep talking while you turn all your attention to your computer and start reading your emails.
  3. What usually happens is that the person finds it increasingly difficult to continue to tell their story. You appear so uninterested that they think you are being extremely rude and may feel quite upset.

If you wish to preserve and repair this relationship, you may wish to apologise; tell them about the experiment, and give them your full attention to finish the story.