Rapport: Making a First Impression and Keeping It

To me rapport is about connection. It is an energetic level. OK, what is energy! I know that most people have the experience of thinking about someone and picking up the phone to dial only to have them already on the phone because they were already there but your phone never rang. People make connections on all levels other than those that we are aware. These connections can be just as strong whether someone is standing next to you whether they are on the other side of the world.

It takes very little time for people to form an impression of someone they have just met, and that impression tends to same with you. A study by Harvard University psychologists found that the opinion students formed toward new teachers in just two seconds was essentially the same as the one they held after sitting through the whole course. Of course, you cannot expect to become everyone’s best friend in a few seconds, but if you make the right first impression, demonstrating that you are honest, reliable and trustworthy, you can initiate the building of a lasting rapport within 90 seconds.

Your attitude sets the quality and mood of your thoughts, which in turn influence the tone of your voice, the words you use, your facial expressions and your body language. Your attitude establishes the quality of your relationships. When you cast a “really useful attitude,” one that is optimistic, interested and cooperative, other people will want to be around you. You choose your attitude. When you project the opposite attitude, you will have the opposite reaction. Make sure your words, tone of voice and gestures are all consistent. When faced with contradiction among these three ways of delivering a message, people pay most attention to body language, and then to tone of voice-and surprisingly little to the actual words.

We like people who are like us, so the key to establishing rapport with strangers is to learn how to be like them. This requires you to deliberately control your behaviour to become sufficiently like the other person to form a connection-at least for a short time. Look around a restaurant especially on Valentine’s Day or any other public place where people meet and socialize and compare those couples who are in rapport with those who are not.

The ones who are in rapport lean toward one another… adopt similar arm and leg positions… talk in similar tones of voice. In short, they seem to be synchronized.

The quickest way to establish rapport with people you meet is to synchronize with them. Synchronizing does not mean you are being phony or insincere. Its purpose is to help you put the other person at ease and speed up the rapport that would otherwise take longer to develop. You are not expected to make your movements, tone and voice mimic the other person’s, but just to act with them the same way you would if you were already friends.

Try to start synchronizing within seconds of making a new acquaintance.

Five stages of a successful first impression…

  • Use open body language. Open hand gestures and facing the other person.
  • Be first with eye contact. Look the other person straight in the eye.
  • Beam a smile.
  • Be the first to identify yourself with a pleasant, “Hi! I’m Monika!”
  • Lean subtly toward the other person to show your interest and openness, and begin to match.

Pick up on the other person’s feelings and identify with them by synchronizing your movements, breathing patterns and expressions. Use your voice to reflect back the mood conveyed by their voice. Do not copy them clumsily, but notice their posture, gestures, head and body movements and facial expressions and mirror them.

Particularly important: Mirror their voice tone, volume, speed and pitch. And the angle of their spine.

Get the other person to start talking openly so you can find out what matters to them and synchronize yourself accordingly. Begin by asking open questions-those that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” but encourage the other person to open up and reveal themselves.

Key words: Who? When? What? Why? Where? How?
Keep the conversation going by answering a question with another question.

If you really want to communicate with other people on their own wavelengths, learn to rapidly figure out their sensory preferences.

People view the world in one of three basic ways…

  • Visuals are motivated primarily by what they see.
  • Auditories by what they hear.
  • Kinesthetics by physical sensations.

You can quickly recognize which group people belong to by listening to the vocabulary they use.


Visuals tend to talk fast, wave their hands, look up with their eyes, dress well and say things like, “I’d like to see proof of that.”
Auditories tend to talk at a medium speed, have melodic and expressive voices, gesture and move their eyes from side to side and will say, “I hear that.”
Kinesthetics tend to speak very slowly and with great detail, look down as they speak, wear textured clothing, and talk about how they feel.

Detecting sensory preferences requires you to pay close attention to others, which in itself makes you a more people-oriented, likeable person. And when you learn how to synchronize with people using the vocabulary they feel comfortable with, your ability to develop rapport with almost anyone will grow.

Rapport is the condition of being in sync, in tune, on the same wavelength. I’ve heard it said that with enough rapport, anything is possible; without rapport, practically nothing is possible. In business, rapport is needed to coordinate action and exchange information. Rapport is at the foundation of all our relationships. Ironically, most business decisions are based on rapport, not on technical merit or the best idea. Rapport makes or breaks most aspects of getting what you want.

To maintain an open channel of communication with another person is to align with them, match them, and meet them where they are. This does not mean you agree with them, but rather that you are open and willing to accept their point of view and you let them know you are there with them.

The purpose of building rapport (matching and aligning with the other person) is to get fully in step with them, so that the next step you take, they are more likely to follow. When you start by matching and meeting them (not expecting them to come to you), you can take immediate control of the situation and move with greater confidence that they will stay with you. Worst case, matching gives you something to do when you get bored during staff meetings.

Special thanks to Nicholas Boothman: How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less


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