How to Build Rapport with Anyone (According to Neuroscience)

Building rapport with anyone is a great skill to use in sales and in life. If you want to learn how to build authentic relationships in business and in life, here are some tips I’ve learned along the way in my life. Let me explain…

Gil was a friend I had the pleasure of working with at a produce distributor during the summer and fall of 2017. He delivered the orders I transcribed from voicemails the night before. I verified the deliveries and we would talk about a girl he was interested in.

It started with him relaying stories of the day’s interaction. I was dissecting the interaction based on what I had learned about what happens in the brain in a relationship and would tell him what to do to generate attraction.

We talked about everything from the value/criteria map to body language and microexpressions. I taught him how to understand this girl he was interested in, and how to express his affection for her in a way she knew was “right”.

It was truly fascinating.

I started using this information everywhere. I started giving people their map back to them, purposely generating attraction. I wasn’t looking for romantic interludes, but I did want to test the application to determine just how broad it would reach. This developmental phase gave birth to my tagline: based in science, works like magic.

Here’s what I learned.

As humans, we have a basic need for love. We need to love and be loved. Because we also have a basic need for security, we seek that love in the safest place – the familiar. This search for familiarity is the prism through which we see the world. In other words, we like people like us.

We all have our own set of values, and we assign our own criteria that tell us when those values are validated. When the criteria are met, the value is validated and the connection with the other person is deepened. It can’t not happen. (We can blame that on oxytocin – the hormone responsible for feelings of bonding between a parent and child.)

Person A is in a relationship with person B. Both people have the value of respect. They both want respect in the relationship.

Person A says, “I know you respect me when you tell me the truth, regardless of how it will make me feel.”

Person B says, “I know you respect me when you tell me things carefully and take how I feel into consideration first.”

Now, what’s going to happen when these two start respecting each other based on their own map?

What about if they respected each other based on their partner’s map?

These two options can produce very different outcomes.

Before the conversation can even begin, there must be enough trust (read the feeling of security) to engage the other person. Again, we search for the familiar. And because we are primarily visual in nature, mirror neurons, microexpressions, and body language all play a huge role in how comfortable we are with the interaction.

Bringing it into business: What does this all mean for sales?

There’s a motto in sales that nearly every professional knows by heart – people buy from those they know, like and trust. Here’s the “dirty little secret”: we know, like and trust those most like ourselves.

In order to change the relationship from prospect to a brand ambassador, your potential customer must feel like you tailored the experience just for them because you share the same values. Here’s your checklist to build the kind of rapport to make that happen:

Step 1. Mindset: Getting to Know Your Customers

I haven’t fully discussed the importance of mindset in this article, however, I will say it is an integral part of the prospective interaction. We must have the end goal of not just understanding the person, but understanding them well enough to create an amazing customer experience. Interacting with your prospective customers with this mindset will dramatically improve your responses.

Think about every person that your business interacts with as your best friend. That’s it. When you think about them as your best friend, it changes the way you feel about them, the way you talk to them and most importantly, the feelings of trust and likeability you generate in them.

Step 2. Physiology: Body Language Matters

Experts say communication is 93% non-verbal. This gives us a critical advantage for rapport building by allowing us to use our physiology to communicate openness long before a “how can I help you” appears.

Every person says “hi” with their eyebrows when they see someone they like. It’s subconscious, happens in a flash and occasionally accompanied by a smile. When we see someone we like and know, that brow raise can turn to a full-on head nod. Because this greeting is more instinctual, seeing it naturally induces feelings of trust. The paleo-cortex says this person is friendly, and friendly is good.

Our body language also reveals how we feel, regardless of what we say. Understanding body language gives a remarkable insight into how a person really feels, but what’s more remarkable is that we can use body language to influence how a person feels.

We can create trust and likeability with an open posture, palms out, genuine Duchenne smiles, and so forth, but the sense of knowing comes from mirroring the prospect’s gestures. Brian Tracy talks about this in his award-winning sales course. Gesture mirroring is exactly what it sounds like – giving the prospect’s mannerisms back to them within one to three seconds after it is displayed. This technique is most effective with smaller expressions, such as head tilts or blinking. Gesture hijacking, however, is used when giving back larger expressions like hand movements, and done some time after the prospect uses the gesture.

I used gesture mirroring while conducting one particular test – meeting a representative for the local chamber of commerce. When I got up to leave after our fifteen-minute conversation, she stood up as well and reached out for a hug.

Gesture mirroring and hijacking is so effective because our gestures are generally expressed unconsciously. They are literal physical expressions of our emotional attachment to the subject of discussion. Because they are expressed unconsciously, they are received unconsciously. Because they are received unconsciously, they create immediate rapport.

Step 3. Effective People Reading

Reading people seems more like a mentalist trick than it does science, however, there’s a great deal of research that goes into effective people reading.

Dr. Paul Ekman pioneered the work on microexpressions – nuanced ticks that indicate emotional response or stress. They relay messages to our subconscious in fractions of a second, under the radar of awareness, and directly impact how we feel about the interaction.

Dr. Ekman studied the facial expressions of people from all over the world to find the common facial indicators of emotion, regardless of age, gender or socioeconomic background. He found seven emotions that trigger universal facial expressions – anger, fear, disgust, contempt, sadness, surprise and joy.

These universal expressions reveal thoughts and emotions that otherwise may go unnoticed.

Dr. Lillian Pearl Bridges teaches face reading in Chinese medicine, and her work has been used by countless professionals, from health practitioners to C-level executives. She’s produced an incredibly revealing chart of where emotions are expressed in the face, the types of emotions that are expressed repeatedly and what those wrinkles reveal about a person’s disposition.

From these two experts, we gain a wealth of information about how to deal with a particular individual. Lines on the chin can reveal fear or anxiety, that person may need reassurance about product performance or service guarantee. Vertical lines in front of the ear indicate hypervigilance, this person may need more specifics about a product. A person with the corners of their mouth turned down has experienced disappointment. They might need you to undersell and over-deliver.

Reading and reciprocating expressions are phenomenally powerful ways of building rapport, and because they are nonverbal, there is no critical factor to dissect the reciprocation. We simply feel this person is like us.

Step 4: Speaking: It Matters How You Say it Too

Both verbal and tonal communication can be used to build rapport. The way a person speaks can be indicative of a thought process, but also show the emotion attached. For example, a higher pitch or faster rate of speech can show emotional stress, whereas a lower pitch and slower rate can reveal a calm demeanor and more analytical or critical thought processes.

Verbiage, however, remains one of the most powerful tools for rapport building. It is through words we express our values and desires, and more importantly, how we know those values are validated.

In the example above, both parties had the value of respect, but their criteria for respect was different. Just like that example above, we seldom meet another’s criteria with our own map. In order for a relationship to be built, we must validate their values and do so by their criteria. Verbiage is the tool to use.

A very popular method of communication called reflective listening came out several years ago, and while it does have some efficacy, a tool developed by David Snyder is far more useful. It’s known as the echo technique and is simply giving a person their own words back in the exact order and sequence they came out. Much like body language, it bypasses critical faculties and speaks directly to the emotional part of the brain.

Likeability is where sales are supercharged and experiences are perfected. When a person describes an expectation, desire or passion, they feel a particular emotion and use very particular words. Those words are the keys to those emotions, and the person cannot hear those words about that expectation, desire or passion and not feel that emotion. What’s more fascinating is whatever or whoever a person is looking at when describing that expectation/desire/passion thing gets the emotion transferred to it like an anchor. Eliciting these emotions builds deep rapport by driving likeability through the roof.

Final Thoughts

As humans, we tend to overcomplicate the simplest things. Building rapport and business relationships aren’t difficult. People are looking for themselves and their own values reflected back to them. If we can, through the relationships, services, and products we offer gives those values back in a way the customer feels understood and appreciated, we will build trust and the subsequent loyalty that grows our business.

If you want more organic growth, better reviews, more referrals, and more, then build a relationship with your customers. Customer relationships built on deep rapport will flourish because they know you understand, appreciate and value them individually, and you can meet their business needs better than the competition.

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How To Sell A Pen (According to Neuroscience): Selling Tips You Can Use Anywhere!

The interview was going well. We discussed corporate culture, service and we had finally come around to the sales position for which I was applying.

 “Sell me this pen.” the interviewer said. 

I picked the pen up off the desk, looked it over once and stuck it in my coat pocket. 


“Beg your pardon?” His brow had more lines than a pickup artist. The look of surprise alone was worth the drive to the interview.

“Why do you want this pen?” I asked. 

“Because I like the way it writes. The ink flows well but dries quickly so there are no smudges. It has a very professional style, and comes with different colored refills.” 

“No smudges? Is that important?”

“Yes”, He said, “I do a lot of writing. That pen allows me to let my thoughts flow without worrying about the ink spotting or smearing.”

“I’m curious about something, what do you do a lot of writing about?” I asked.

“Well, a lot of plans for my team, strategies, notes from meetings, things like that.”

“Ah, things like that, stuff that will grow the organization, improve the process? Are those the thoughts this pen helps you keep track of and implement?”

“Yes, indeed.” His face shone with a smile only a fourth-grade science project contest winner knows.

“Wow, I can see you do like this pen. Have you always used a pen like this?”

“Oh, no,” he said, “only since I’ve gotten into management. My first pen like that was from my mentor, but it’s on my desk.”

“I see. So this pen brings back some fond memories for you. I see why you like this pen.”

 “Yes”, he reached out for his pen. “Can I have it back now?”

“No, but you can buy it for $29.95.”

Now, that’s how you interview for a sales position!

The Problem Persistent: Why Features and Benefits Don’t Work in Sales Anymore

 The age-old interview scenario: Sell this _____ to me. It has gotten the age-old responses: features and benefits. Features and benefits are for packaging.

That was a great answer twenty years ago. My first time I was asked to show my sales chops, I was asked to sell a pepper shaker. I was applying for a serving position and this was the test. I told the manager about where pepper came from, the wonderful health benefits and the zest the pepper added to the food. I got the job.

But, my real sales ability came from connecting with my guests at the restaurant. It was understanding their values (like whether or not they drank alcohol, preferred big meals with family or quiet nights or alone, the kind of foods they chose and lifestyle) and forming relationships with those guests. It made me more able to recommend appetizers, wine, desserts and even fun spots in the area.

Translating to the Now: Selling to People’s Values

After spending the last two years in a passionate (not academic, I’m just a nerd) pursuit into neuroscience, I understand why the science of selling to people’s values works so well.

Human beings have three brains. The deepest of which is known as the paleocortex. We tend to think of this as the heart. Not the blood pumper, but the behavior driver. The paleocortex thinks in terms of primal drives. Do I know it? Can I eat it? Is it friendly? Can I mate with it? That’s about it.

The second brain wraps all those primal drives in emotions. But neither of those two have any capacity for language. That’s why we say things like “it just doesn’t feel right”.

Our third brain is where logic, reason, and stories package those emotions and drives into communication, and it comes through in our language, and what we look for as good and right. It is our checklist. We assign labels and meanings and it becomes the criteria by which our values are validated. 

It is in our communication we understand one another and form relationships based on rapport. When our values are validated, it deepens rapport. We feel as though we can trust the person because they believe in the same things we do.

Let me bring all this together. 

In the example above, our manager expressed the value and emotional attachment he held for the pen through his words. He talked about the style of the pen, it’s daily use, and receiving one as a congratulatory gift, from his mentor, on the occasion of being promoted. All positive events.

Had he received a pen as a joke from his peers after he was fired, it wouldn’t have held the same emotional value. It wouldn’t be described with the same words. 

Each section of the manager’s brain views the pen in its own way. The neocortex views the pen through the senses and attaches a story and meaning to the pen. 

The second layer “likes” the pen because of the sentimental value and fulfillment derived from usage.

The paleo-cortex says that this pen is familiar, and that familiar is good.

I knew this because rather than sell the pen by describing all its features and benefits, I developed enough of a relationship with the manager to find out what’s important to him.

In my interview example, I didn’t talk about how nice the pen was, how professional it looked, how well it wrote or anything like that. The questions I asked made the manager sell the pen to himself. They brought out the emotional attachment he had to that pen.

A Closer Look: How Sales Should Work

The first question was very general, why do you like this _____? Apart from planting the assumption that they like the pen, it’s a search for criteria. Our brains are wired to answer questions. A question like this one forces the mind to come up with all of the reasons why we like something. The more we think about why we like it, the more we like it. That thought loop reinforces our desire to have that pen. 

The manager liked the pen because it held sentimental value and fulfillment from use. That happens in the second brain. The neocortex attaches reasons like the professional style and meeting notes.

The second question elicits value. Is that important to you? Yes or no, it gives a measure of how desired those features and benefits really are to the client. In our example, it revealed that our manager does a lot of writing. It goes beyond the thing itself and into the emotional value, the thing provides.

The intermediary questions I posed elicit the emotional value of the pen, further reinforce its importance, and got the manager thinking about all of the projects that would be finished, the ideas implemented and so forth. These thoughts trigger emotional attachment and desire, completely under the radar. It’s almost unfair.

The last question elicits fond memory. It’s the deal sealer. Our manager cannot think about the first time he used a pen like that, without thinking about his mentor, being promoted, or receiving a gift. Nor can he have those thoughts without experiencing good feelings. And because I asked the question, all of those good feelings from the fond memory becomes associated with me.

With that pen in my pocket, I have essentially taken that appreciation he has for the pen, the passion he writes and the fond memories away. They’re in my pocket attached to his pen. This association can be done with any product. The questions may have to be adapted to have the prospect imagine him or herself using the proverbial pen, but it can be done. Frankly, it’s more powerful using imagination, but rapport is strengthened using memory. 

This final takeaway creates a “pain” that is vastly different from the emotional “pleasure” of the fond memories and big dreams. This emotional up and down creates an emotional bond between me and the manager. It’s a technique known as fractionation and used by Hollywood in every box office hit that comes out.

Final Thoughts

People buy from those they know, like and trust. Every salesperson knows that. Every customer knows that, but they don’t realize it consciously.

In order to improve the feeling of knowing, likability and trust, it requires building rapport and understanding the customer’s values before their needs. This rapport/relationship approach to sales is far more valuable because it builds customer loyalty and loyal customers are referring customers.

We understand values simply by asking what is important and why it’s important. That gives us keywords and phrases that have an emotional attachment. The person cannot talk about these values with feeling the emotion, and they cannot have their values validated and not have rapport deepened.

It’s a powerful and adaptable process that lets the prospect sell themselves. 

  1. Reinforcement

  2. Value Elicitation

    1. What’s important?

    2. How do they know when they get it?

  3. Past Pleasant Memory

The rapport generated by eliciting the value and criteria became vastly powerful when it came time for “the close”. The close was done when I put the pen in my pocket, but we didn’t get there until the relationship was built. Had I not asked those questions and generated that rapport, I would’ve been a thief.

By building the relationship we are able to elicit the values and criteria by which our prospects measure any product, service or interaction. It gives us as sales professionals the ability to provide solutions that not only meet the need but exceed expectations. We are able to provide a level of service more personalized than the competition and build a loyal client base that grows organically and as exponentially as word of mouth.

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Danny Meyer’s Enlightened Hospitality Model: Why You Should Care

What is Danny Meyer’s enlightened hospitality model anyway? And why should you care about hospitality at all in your social impact business? Hospitality is more than just good customer service; it’s the heart of your brand if done right.

Danny Meyer: A Customer Service Guru

Danny Meyer has some amazing views on hospitality and customer service. I recently watched an interview with him where he talked about the virtuous cycle of enlightened hospitality, and therein he discussed taking care of the team first and the investors fifth. In so doing, he contradicted the traditional views of capitalism and created a company culture that seeks to make an impact before making an income.

His team philosophy stresses hiring those who can challenge themselves and others to be their best, and take their experience to the table, thus providing a dining experience that is beyond satisfying. It is remarkable. In fact, his restaurants have won 28 awards for customer service, all of which he attributes to the virtuous cycle of enlightened hospitality.

Enlighted Hospitality — A Driving Force

This virtuous cycle is as it sounds, with the idea of enlightened hospitality as the driving force. Not just taking care of the customer, but doing so in such a way that you create an experience in the customer’s life. Hospitality is making sure you provide that service in a way that makes the customer feel great about doing business with you.

Danny Meyer picked out 17 companies that embody that philosophy. Companies that don’t just provide a service, but motivate and challenge their teams to provide that service in more imaginative and gracious ways than the next guy. To provide that service in such a way that makes the customer feel warm, fulfilled, and genuinely better than before they walked through their doors. Seventeen companies that outperform the S&P by leaps and bounds.

These companies embody the team-centric mindset that creates hospitality. These companies treat their respective teams as people. People who are capable of creating change. People who are empowered to be on their customers’ sides. People who lead and challenge and grow.

We can learn a lot as entrepreneurs from Danny Meyer. Here are my top key takeaways:

1. Follow your passion.

Simon Sinek said it best. The market leaders know why they do what they do. One trait of great leaders is the ability to inspire others. When you know why you’re in business, and that why is something you are passionate about, your team will buy into your vision.

Danny Meyer is passionate about bringing people together around the table and making that experience the kind his guests talk about. It’s his love story – watching his family enjoy their meal. The smell from the kitchen, the closeness of family, the conversation, the laughs, and the food. The recipes handed down from generation to generation, all creating the kind of experience you remember fondly.

Every business decision he made was done so with one end goal in mind – would this outcome produce the kind of restaurant that I would love to visit.

Be passionate. Make an impact.

2. Take care of your team first.

What? Shouldn’t that read investors? Or customers?


By taking care of the team first, Meyer created businesses where employees are treated like people. People who have hopes and dreams and goals and talents and knowledge. People who are empowered to take care of the customer, and thus create a greater return for the investors.

His team philosophy could be well encapsulated in this “I can’t expect someone to care about anyone else unless they feel cared for.”

This is quite possibly the most critical factor in the success of a business. He hires people who can both perform at consistently high levels and have the emotional skill set to make people feel good about being around them.

His impact model works because it fosters growth. The team is one where they can learn from each other, have fun with, be a champion with and grow with. Success becomes a byproduct, instead of the goal. His customers return so often because they feel cared for.

“They’re happy, they’re fulfilled, they’re warm, and it is genuine.”

3.Hospitality over service.

Service is simple. It’s what we do as business owners. Service is how well you do what you advertise. Hospitality, however, is how the customer feels about doing business with you. That’s the fifth star.

Is your team delivering your service in a way that keeps customers coming back? Are your customers understood, and do they know that? By this I mean, are you answering customer needs in a way that leaves customers feeling loved and fulfilled?

Love? Fulfillment? Is this a relationship?

Yes. Yes, it absolutely is. Remember, your customers feed the business. Impact model businesses take amazing care of their customers, and their customers know it. Creating a relationship with your customers will ensure they know your business takes amazing care of them. It ensures loyalty. And brand recognition. And the single greatest method of advertising in the history of ever – word of mouth.

Hospitality is more than what you do, it’s how you do it. It’s your impact.

4. Give back to your community.

It’s where we are. It’s the neighborhoods our customers live in.

It’s where we give back. Danny Meyer has a company ethos – engaging team members in volunteer opportunities. He provides channels for the team to build a bond with customers outside of the restaurant. It gives his team a place to lead, help and share, and it gives the community an opportunity to see the team truly cares.

It’s the law of reciprocity in action. The business that gives back to the community creates customers. The influence is felt – and seen.

5. Be a mentor.

This is the takeaway that resonates with me more so than others. Impact models have mentors in the organization. Maybe this should be a subheading under takeaway number two, but the process of mentoring and challenging the team creates innovation. It eliminates stagnancy. It produces growth.

And growth plus passion plus hospitality plus giving back equals success.