The Downside to using Body Language to Build Rapport

In the early days of NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) people got the idea that they could get people to do what they wanted to do by matching and pacing body language. I do agree initially people feel comfortable with people they PERCEIVE are like themselves (hence, matching body language) AND if they feel comfortable they will most likely listen. However, it doesn’t mean that they will automatically do what you want. Even if it did, is this the only method of persuasion you want to use to ecologically help a person decide?

We are neurologically wired to want to be connected. Matching each other’s body language is a natural process of communicating. The sincere desire to understand what someone is saying and to like them is the only element of a conversation that has to be there for matching and pacing to be triggered.

Human beings are complex. We not only demonstrate things about us though our behavior, we also tell others about ourselves through our language and thinking – how we sort information and what we believe and value. Matching people at belief and value or even sorting patterns will give you a deeper rapport than behavior cannot touch.

Here are some critical points about the nature of rapport and it’s use in persuasion.

  1. Rapport is analog; not digital. You can have surface rapport with someone (generally established through body language). Deeper rapport can be achieved by matching thinking patterns, eye patterns, sorting patterns, beliefs, criteria and values. Deeper yet is the rapport established by breathing (not appropriate except in intimate situations). I do notice when I’m in deep rapport with someone our breathing is matched. Rapport is not “on” or “off.”
  2. Rapport isn’t about “liking”; it is about mutual trust and understanding.There are people you may not like but trust. There are people you like but don’t trust.
  3. Having surface rapport established by matching body language, will not necessarily give you the true depth of rapport needed to influence someone.In fact, you can be matched in body language but out of rapport at other deeper levels. You may think you have rapport based on body language only to find out that deeper understanding eluded you.
  4. Real communication takes place when understanding happens between two or more people. Your conscious mind can only focus on one thing at a time. When you spend your time and attention watching body language and matching it, you are not present in the conversation and you can seem very mechanical. You only intermittently attend to what the other person is are saying.
  5. Keep your thoughts clear of negative commentary and judgment when conversing with someone. If you sit or stand in front of people or a person and think, “I don’t like this person”, it will be demonstrated in subtle body language cues and your voice. Then you match and pace their behavior, their brain gets a mixed message. Mix messages will set up a feeling of distrust.  Your body will AUTOMATICALLY RESPOND to theirs when you keep your inner voice quiet and remind yourself that you like the person in front of you and you want to get to know them.
  6. The best way to establish rapport is being present with someone, standing or sitting at an appropriate distance, and showing genuine interest in them.
  7. Sharing common values, criteria and beliefs are more valuable than behavioral rapport and will often lead to automatic body rapport.
  8. Understand the reason for behavioral rapport. It is NOT to get people to do what you want, it is to step into their position, shoes, whatever you want to call it, so that you can see things from their point of view. When you build that type of energetic rapport you can pick up information not overtly stated in the conversation. More important, it allows you to enter their world and understand their world. The power of persuasion is here. People do things for their reasons; not yours. Trying to convince people you are right only works if your argument uses their reasons.
  9. Do not be fooled by someone telling you that body language can tell you how they are thinking. Body language is very individual. It comes out of the complex nature of our past personal history. Better to notice and wonder what certain repetitive gestures mean rather to be wrong or take someone else’s generalizations about body language. Again, you are not present in the conversation if so much of your attention is focused on what the body language means. Listen to what they are saying and ask questions. Look at the situation through their eyes.
  10. Eventually someone will catch you and/or they will feel manipulated.No persuasion and no rapport.
  11. People in the world of content don’t base how a conversation is going by rapport; they base it on accuracy of information.
  12. If you are interested in how to be persuasive, take Masters level NLP classes from a certified trainer with years of experience, such as myself.  Retraining yourself to communicate like an expert takes time and effort. I do not use body language to build rapport, I use it as a marker of how the conversation is going. There are too many other important aspects of a conversation to pay attention to.