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Rapport: Establishing And Maintaining It

Recently, I asked a family friend, a financial advisor, to share with me his perspective on the importance of rapport in the world of sales. In a general way, I knew that successful salespeople maintain good rapport with their clients. And so I was curious. Was the need for developing rapport in business any different than doing so in a parent-child relationship? To that end, I posed the following questions: “How do you establish rapport with a new client? And what do you believe is a key issue to creating rapport?


Interestingly, the information he shared was no different than that which is taught in NLP [Note: As a reminder, NLP is a set of principles and strategies that focuses on the detail of how we communicate (externally and internally); how we process, store and recall this communication; and how we can change and empower this communication to achieve the results and goals we want]. His response matched mine – creating rapport revolves around trust in a relationship. As he put it, “The way I gain trust is by putting down my pen and listening attentively to my clients’ needs. I want them to walk away knowing that I understand what they are saying and that I care.”

Rapport is defined as a relationship of mutual understanding or trust and agreement between people when they are at ease with one another and where communication is occurring easily. It is marked by harmony, a bond, connection or affinity, and it is found within the realm of alignment, likeness or similarity.

There are relationships where we automatically experience rapport, such as with close friends or in the company of those with whom we share an intense common interest. Then there are relationships — within the family setting and in the outside world — where rapport must be established, developed and honed. Since rapport is a skill that can be learned, it can be used to facilitate a relationship with anybody — in any setting — even with those with whom we profoundly disagree or of whose behaviors we may disapprove.

How exactly does one create rapport?

While NLP offers several effective ways, two common techniques key to establishing rapport are matching and developing a genuine interest in the other person and in his/her model of the world.

Matching is the process of becoming more like the other person by assuming his/her behaviors (i.e., body language, voice, words, etc.). It is a powerful way of getting an appreciation of how the other person is seeing or experiencing the world. And yet, it is not to be viewed as mimicking or copying. As a matter of fact, matching is meant to be done on an unconscious level which means using subtlety in one’s behavior.

Now here is something interesting to consider. When matching, focus first on body language (i.e., posture, facial expressions, hand gestures, eye contact), then voice (i.e., tonality, speed, volume, rhythm) and finally the person’s words (i.e., visual, auditory and kinesthetic). The reason, noted by Mehrabian and Ferris (“Inference of Attitudes from Nonverbal Communication in Two Channels”, Journal of Counseling Psychology, Vol. 31, 1967, pp. 248-52), is research showing that 55 percent of the impact of a presentation is determined by one’s body language, 38 percent by one’s voice and only 7 percent by the content or words that one uses.

On an interesting note, matching is not always an intentional action. There are some surprising ways many of us “naturally” engage in matching without necessarily recognizing we are in that process. And ironically, that “natural” outcome is exactly what we are meant to work toward when we practice the skill of matching.

Think about a time when you approached a rather young baby. What type of voice did you use when you communicated with the child? Chances are, your pitch became elevated a few decibels and the pace of your voice matched the pace of the baby’s cooing. Or perhaps you noticed an adult addressing a small child. Often, the adult will crouch or lean down to the child’s height and talk more slowly and excitedly. The adult will also become involved totally in the child’s world. As to the child’s response, well, what could be more validating than an adult meeting her at her own level!

When it comes to an adolescent, while crouching down might not be necessarily a suitable position, still, you want to send the message that you wish to relate to him by moving completely onto his plain. That can be accomplished by taking a position where you will be eye to eye. Whether it means sitting at the table, leaning on a fence, sitting on steps or a bed, the idea is to match them on a physical level.

Speaking of adolescents, let’s be honest. It is definitely easy to have a rapport when you like your teen. However, what happens when your teenager is difficult and you find it hard to like him; how do you establish rapport? Then again, liking your child is not a prerequisite for rapport (keep in mind that “liking” a child is not to be confused with “loving.” We love our children even if we make not “like” their behaviors or them). And yet, finding something likable about your teen is a necessity.

While meeting a teen on a physical plain is a contributing factor to creating rapport, making a connection with your teen is best achieved by looking for something you can appreciate about your child and sharing it in a genuine way. Whether you validate a physical characteristic (i.e. “You have such a bright smile”), praise a character trait (i.e., “You’re very courageous”) or admire a talent (i.e., “I can’t get over how you calculate figures in your head so quickly”), a child will feel valued and worthy when you acknowledge his qualities and appreciate his contributions. Focusing on a positive aspect of your teen can, therefore, potentially help build a connection and prepare you to interact (i.e., communicate further) in a calmer way.

There are several other ways parents can connect with their teen:

1. Become a good listener. That means listening:

without being attached to your point of view

without interrupting or being distracted

without being defensive

without judging or criticizing

without preaching

2. Empathize/Step into your teen’s shoes. That means:

learn how she perceives her situation

hear what he is truly saying

sincerely seek to understand what and how she is feeling

3. Validate. That means acknowledging your teen’s:


It does not mean you are agreeing with your child.

In conclusion, rapport is about establishing and maintaining an environment of trust, understanding and safety, which gives a person the freedom to fully express his/her ideas and concerns and to know that s/he will be respected by the other person. Rapport creates the space for the person to feel listened to and heard and respected for his/her model of the world. In rapport, the common ground or similarities are emphasized and the differences are minimized. And when we focus on commonalities, there is a greater probability for resistance and antagonism to disappear and cooperation to improve. In essence, rapport facilitates effective communication.

In our next segment the focus will be Upgrading our Language. We will be differentiating between weak words and powerful ones, and discovering how potent words can help us maintain effective communication.

Debbie Brown is a certified life coach specializing in parent coaching, and is an NLP Master Practitioner. She is available for private, confidential phone coaching sessions as well as lectures and group workshops. For further information or to express feelings regarding the Parental Perspective topic, Debbie may be contacted at If you would like to read Debbie’s archived articles, log on to and, in the search box on the home page, type in Debbie Brown.