As humans, it’s in our nature to have the desire to be close with other people. This is why it can be such a detriment to our mental and emotional health when we are lacking in healthy personal relationships.
The term “rapport” describes a relationship between two people who have a good understanding of one another and who are able to communicate well. Learning to build rapport with other people can help you to bond quickly with virtually anyone you meet, and having this skill will benefit you in your career as well as in your personal and social lives.
Mirror and Match
According to Dr. Aldo Civico, “Rapport is the root of effective communication.” The key to building this type of rapport is the strategy of “matching and mirroring” which, he says, is “the skill of assuming someone else’s style of behavior to create rapport.”1
This does not mean mimicking the other person’s behavior, which they will likely perceive as mockery. Instead, it is the ability to make observations about the style of someone’s communication and apply aspects of it to your own communication.
Doing this helps the other person to feel understood, and mutual understanding is essential to developing rapport. It also helps to build trust with the other person, which is an important part of the bonding process.
The “mirror and match” strategy can be applied to various components of communication when being used to build rapport with someone: body language, energy level, and tone of voice.
1. Match and Mirror: Body Language
Body language makes up the majority of your communication with the world, whether you are aware of the messages you’re sending or not. Using the “match and mirror” strategy to adopt certain aspects of a person’s body language will put them at ease and make them more comfortable in your interaction.
Imagine you’re speaking with someone you’ve just met who has a very reserved and calm demeanor. If you approach them with wild gesticulation and are constantly patting them on the back or using other physical means of communication, they will likely feel uncomfortable and overwhelmed by you.
Matching their more reserved body language style will make them feel safe around you and make them more comfortable opening up as you develop your relationship.
On the other hand, if you’re meeting a person with a more active and outgoing body language, using hand gestures as you speak and moving around more the way they do will not only help them to better understand you in your communication, but will also help them to feel more understood as they communicate.
Here’s a personal example as evidence that this strategy is effective:
I am not a very “huggy” person. I simply wasn’t raised in a family or community culture where hugging people other than your immediate relatives or significant other is a common practice.
But when I began spending time with a new group of people in college, I quickly realized that hugging was a very regular part of their interactions with one another. They hugged when they greeted each other, they hugged when they said goodbye, and they hugged during conversations if things took a more emotional or sentimental turn.
For a while I was extremely uncomfortable. This triggered my social anxiety and I would spend the entirety of every social event thinking about how I was going to respond when people inevitably went in for a hug at the end of the evening. But I quickly realized that I was being perceived by the others as standoffish as a result of my hesitation when it came to hugging.
When I began to work on being more willing to match their style of communication through my body language, my relationships with the others in the group finally began to blossom. The “match and mirror” strategy of building rapport worked quickly and effectively, and I ended up getting to know my best friend of six years during that time.
2. Match and Mirror: Energy Level
Have you ever been engaged in a conversation with someone whose energy level was much higher than your own? You probably began to feel uncomfortable–maybe even annoyed– and were eager to exit the conversation as quickly as possible.
Matching a person’s energy level is an important part of relating to them and making them feel comfortable enough to stick around long enough for you to continue building rapport.
If you encounter a calm, reserved person, lowering your energy (or at least lowering the amount of energy you express) will help you to better communicate with them. Using a similar pace and volume when speaking to the other person will help your conversation last longer and be more enjoyable.
On the other hand, if you are speaking to a very high-energy person and you remain very calm and reserved, they may find you boring and become disinterested in further interaction with you. In this case, communicating more energetically will help you to bond with them.
Matching a person’s energy level is a very easy way to subtly change your communication style to more effectively use rapport-building to bond with them.
3. Match and Mirror: Tone of Voice
In some ways, matching a person’s tone of voice can be a very easy way to improve your rapport-building.
If someone speaks very quickly, speaking very slowly may cause them to lose interest. If someone speaks at a more steady pace, speaking very quickly may overwhelm them.
However, remember that when you are “matching and mirroring” it’s important to do it subtly so as not to cause the other person to feel mocked. Perceived mockery will ruin any chances you have of bonding with someone.
Mirroring someone’s mannerisms is another, slightly more complex, way to build rapport through conversation.
For example, my dad is a claims adjuster for a vehicle insurance company. Everyone he talks to has either been in a car accident or had something terrible happen to one of their valuable modes of transportation. In other words, my dad talks to a lot of very unhappy people. And as we all know, unhappy people aren’t always the most pleasant.
But somehow my dad manages to bond with nearly everyone he speaks to. He is extremely personable and well-liked. Being in the south, men use the terms “man” and “buddy” when referring to one another in conversation (“How’s it going, man?”, “Yeah buddy I understand”). So when he speaks to someone southern, my dad slightly alters his accent to match the other person’s and uses their culturally appropriate terminology throughout the conversation. When he’s speaking with someone from a different part of the country, he makes minute adjustments to his accent and uses terminology that will be more relatable to to that person.
In this way, mirroring someone’s tone of voice and mannerisms can help them feel like you’re “one of them” and will go a long way towards building rapport.
Rapport building is an essential part of bonding with other people. Making them feel that you have a mutual understanding builds trust and lays the foundation for bonding.
Using the “match and mirror” strategy to build rapport and bond with people can significantly improve your career as well as your personal and social lives, and it will undoubtedly assist you in developing relationships that last a lifetime.
How can you use rapport building to impact your life? Share your thoughts in the comments!