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How to Establish Rapport in Seconds

Individuals who can quickly establish rapport with others have a distinct advantage in life. The ability to connect in a fast, powerful, and natural way with our fellow humans is undoubtedly one of the key elements in the formula for personal and professional success. And we all know this is especially true when it comes to critical first meetings, such as job interviews, contract negotiations, and first dates.

Fortunately, like any set of skills, the ability to establish rapport can be learned.

However, to really create an instant connection, you first need to educate yourself on exactly what is happening beneath the surface when two or more people interact.

The first thing we need to accept is that when someone initially meets us they are going to engage in a little pigeon-holing. By that, I mean they are going to peg us as a given 'type'. Studies show this occurs almost instantly, within the first 4 to 30 seconds of meeting.

This categorization is based solely on outer appearances, impressions, and personal prejudices. So, things like dress, scents, general visual attractiveness and health, etc., are all of particular importance at this stage. These impressions, combined with the other person's psychological projections, go into their sorting us as a 'type' that they are either inclined to like or dislike.

The result of this categorizing process is that anything you communicate to the person is then filtered and evaluated through their perception of the kind of person they have assessed you to be. That perception and category will alter over time, of course, and people will generally report different levels of attraction and affection for a person once they feel they have gotten to know them. However, the immediate impact on rapport is very real and must be addressed.

The key question is: Regardless of immediate impressions, how can you get a person to move you as quickly as possible into the category of people they like?

One way to achieve this is through an incredibly powerful, and often poorly understood, Neuro-Linguistic Programming technique called ‘matching and mirroring'. Essentially, this technique involves the skillful reflection of the other person's attributes back to them.

Social scientists have long understood that people tend to like people who are like them. This 'sameness' principle drives matching and mirroring and is actually based in the evolutionary development of the limbic system, or ‘reptilian' brain. Over millions of years of evolution, mirroring behaviors developed as a survival mechanism to help not only human beings, but other animals, connect non-verbally to other members of their pack or social group. This allowed them to respond automatically and in unison to important environmental changes, such as the appearance of predators or other threats.

In 1975, the neuroanatomist Paul D. MacLean termed this pattern of response as ‘isopraxis' (translated from Greek as ‘same behavior'). In the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, matching and mirroring fits under a more general category called ‘pacing', which includes not only the matching of outer behaviors, but also internal thought processes, values, linguistic syntax, etc.

A common example of human isopraxis can often be found in the behavior of two romantic partners. When people are in rapport, they will typically demonstrate rather obvious matching and mirroring. The woman will sit with her hands folded in her lap while her partner sits across from her and does the same. When she moves, the other follows along. It's kind of like watching a parakeet looking at itself in a mirror (thus, the term ‘mirroring'). Conversely, people who are not in rapport, or not 'getting along', will tend to ‘mis-match' or demonstrate distancing behaviors.

Now, having taught precision matching and mirroring to thousands of students, I can tell you that people often make two mistakes when they first learn about it: The first is that they confuse it with 'mimicking' the other person. As I will clearly show you, that is not the case. The second is that they think it is 'neat' or 'interesting'. That is also not true, as really understanding how to use matching and mirroring can change your entire life.

So, with that in mind, here are some basics to get you started:

It’s best to begin with a complete stranger, as there you will see your most notable results. Find someone with whom you might want to establish rapport and, if possible, observe them a little while before you interact with them.

Start by noticing their non-verbal communication (body posture, energy, gestures, etc.). Once you've done that, approach them in a very neutral fashion. This allows you to avoid the possibility of alienating or turning them off to you before you have had any actual chance to actively match or mirror them.

Once the interaction has begun, subtly move into pacing, or matching and mirroring their behavior as it changes. In other words, cross your arms in the way they are crossing their arms, when they cross their arms. Position yourself physically to match their posture. Speak at the same volume and with the same tone and rate of speech. Match their energy, their manner, and any key words they use.

It is important to remember that your goal is not to mimic the other person, but to demonstrate through your non-verbal communication that you think they are important and that you are on their side.

So, in order to make your matching natural, a good rule of thumb is to employ a few seconds lag time between each matching/mirroring gesture. Think of it as a slow dance where you are ebbing and flowing with the other person, and most of all, conveying the message that they are important and are being acknowledged.

Practice doing this over time. Experiment until you get a good feel for what works for you. Learn to do this properly, and you will have people loving you and opening up to you like flowers in no time!

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