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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