How to form rapport with others before you even speak

Sometimes interactions can seem awkward.  The other person may be guarded or seem aggressive.

They say that in order to understand someone – to truly empathise and connect – you have to walk a mile in their shoes.

Now, I’m sure that you have sharp style and fragrant feet ?but I’m more likely to stick with my own shoes.

There is a faster way of connecting with others without having to wear their clothing.

Whether you’re leading people, selling an idea or out for a cheeky beverage with a new friend, this technique is scientifically proven to work. It’s quicker than schlepping in their shoes.

I’m talking about a non-verbal technique called Matching.


What is it?

It’s a social necessity, helping you empathise with another as you echo their body, vocal or verbal language.

Mirroring is actually something we do naturally when we feel comfortable with people.

It facilitates the social empathy that is required for social bonding.  When you initiate such imitation, people actually like you more.

In a series of experiments described in this 2009 Paper published in the Annual Review of Psychology, a group of researchers pretended to be among a group of subjects who were asked to work with another participant in selecting pictures for a project.

The researchers either imitated the spontaneous postures, movement and mannerisms of the subjects or kept a neutral posture.

Those who were mimicked rated their interaction with the researcher higher than the researchers who maintained a neutral posture.

The workplace is full of such mimicry – for good or bad.

You can change it though.


Why Match?

Simply by falling in with the postures, vocal patterns or gestures of others, they gain trust in you.  Although we do this naturally when relaxed and connecting with another, life is easier if we can gain trust earlier.

We don’t match when feeling self-conscious or we have no wish for a connection or understanding with another person.

If you do feel self-conscious though, you’ll find that minimising rapidly with Matching.  This is because you’re only focusing on the movements / words / tone of another person so it’ll get you out of your head.

And here’s the beauty of it:

you only have to be aware of Matching in the first 30 seconds or so before there’s a sub-conscious interplay between you and the other person whereby you’ll naturally match and form a flow in the conversation, resulting in a more comfortable and open exchange.

Decent salespeople do this, synchronising with their prospect’s patterns. When they feel that there’s enough trust established, they’ll introduce their own gesture, which will mismatch that of their prospect.

If the prospect follows, the sales person is ready to ask for commitment – and more likely to attain it.


In what ways can you match?

Here are some of the ways in which you can use matching.

  1. Vocal speed – if they speak rapidly, you speed up. If they’re slower, you do the same.
  2. Vocal tone – match a softer speaker or someone more strident.
  3. Physical Rhythm – They tap their foot, you can tap yours. Alternatively do what may be more natural for you, by tapping a pen or finger. This works even if such rhythmic mirroring is intermittent.
  4. Physical space – if the other person is more contained with their gestures, then be less effusive with your own. If they look defensive, don’t mirror that but do keep your limbs closer to your own body, otherwise they’ll retreat.
  5. Posture – when the other person is sitting backwards, you may lean back too. If they are slumping, again matching that won’t be useful so partially mirror: go for sitting up sitting back but upright.
  6. Words – echo some of the language back to the other. Use this technique especially in proposals and emails.  Here’s how you can use this technique when confronted or you need to seek clarification.



How to do it naturally – without looking like you’re mimicking…

If someone moves or speaks very differently from you, this can feel forced and unnatural. Also, you don’t want to freak someone out by suddenly and obviously imitating them. So here are some guidelines to make it unobtrusive and natural.

  1. Have a time lag between action of the other and your imitation;
  2. Be selective. If the other person is waving their arms like a demented traffic cop, you may feel uncomfortable doing that too. However, you may feel more genuine mirroring their smiles.  This is called partial matching.  Notice the partial matching in this group.
  3. Vary the amplitude. If they’re sitting with the arms folded across their torso, you may opt for sitting with one hand on top of your wrist, settled in your lap.


Your Action Step

1. You next phone call: adjust vocal tone to match the other.  Alternatively, echo some of their language or the pace at which they’re speaking.
2. Meeting or social: physically match or partially match the posture and gestures of the other.


Looking to improve how your work relationships with others – without sacrificing who you really are?  Then have a look here at how I can help you.

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