Creating and maintaining rapport using basic NLP skills

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” NLP Adage

Have you ever wondered why at times you seem to ‘click’ with someone and the conversation flows nicely? At other times it’s like walking into a glass door, it looked open but you did not get through?

If the situation above intrigues you, you’ll find this post most enlightening. Most of us, whether selling or buying, rely on modalities to share or take information in, most of them on an unconscious, or subconscious, level. I am confident the information provided in this post will explain certain situations and also trigger new approaches which can result in better outcomes, whether with your customers, your trainees, colleagues or even at home with the family.

Building on the previous Communication posts of Listening Skills and Structuring a Presentation, this one is meant to either refresh your existing knowledge or introduce you to the impact of verbal and non-verbal communication. It will help you confirm what kind of preference you have when it comes to taking information in and expressing yourself and explain why you’re either flowing smoothly or banging your head in some conversations.In doing their research during the 1970’s, the founders of Neuro-Linguistic Programming™ (NLP), Richard Bandler and John Grinder discovered that people have three basic unconscious modes of receiving, processing and representing information in the world around them:

• Visual – people who see the world and who like to think in pictures

• Auditory – people who hear it and who tune in to sounds

• Kinesthetic – people who go for how something feels

“Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” Dr. Stephen Covey

Let’s see what each of the three NLP modalities look like. This will enable you to figure out your preferences and also provide you with a starting point on what to look and listen for to detect someone else’s preferences. Can you guess in advance the following three communication types?

1. Who do you see me as?

“I am organised, generally neat and get easily distracted by untidiness; I am very observant; when spelling, I see the words in my head and am quite a good speller; my voice has a higher pitch, I remember things I’ve seen best, I favour words like ‘picture; focus; clear; looks; tunnel vision’ in my conversations; first impressions do count for me, I mentally create pictures when I talk and that’s why I sometimes look above your head when I talk to you; I’m not always good with names, but I remember faces well; I like to use visuals like graphs or posters when I explain something to someone and I prefer to do this face-to-face; when I have to learn something new, I look at the pictures or diagrams to figure it out; when I imagine things, I see movies in my head; In my free time I enjoy visiting art galleries, watching TV or go to the movies.”

You clearly recognised the Visual person – the one who sees the world and made the saying: “A picture paints a thousand words” famous. They add colourful images to our lives. They make up 35% of the population according to Bandler and Grinder.

2. Who do I sound like?

“I sometimes talk to myself and am considered a talkative person; I get easily distracted by sounds and noises; when I read things I move my lips or say the words I read; I’m good at mimicking other people’s tone, pitch and even accents; My voice is quite methodological – I use pace, pitch and projection for effect; I do like to use Uhms and Ahs a lot when I listen and I tend to look from side to side to your ears when I either listen or speak to you; I favour words like ‘sound, hear, listen, tune in, speechless, and resonate’ in my conversations; I sound out words I have to spell; I’m not good at remembering faces but I do remember names and what we talked about quite well; I prefer conversations rather than writing emails and enjoy explaining things over the phone to someone; If I have to figure something new out, I’ll ask someone nearby or get on the phone to someone for instructions; when I imagine things I hear sounds and voices in my head; In my free time I enjoy catching up with my friends for a chat.”

It’s as clear as a bell; this is the Auditory person – the one who hears the world and tune into sounds. This is the person who sings along any ditty of any radio commercial, even if they’ve heard it only once. They add sound and rhythm to our lives. They make up 25% of the population.

3. Who do you feel this is?

“I am a sucker for physical rewards, little give-aways does it for me; I become easily distracted by movement around me; I have a habit of touching people (ever so lightly and with political correctness off course) and find myself standing quite close to some; My eyes move around a lot and I look down at your arms, legs or feet when I think, listen or talk to you – still in a politically correct manner may I add; If I have to check the spelling of a word, I write it out on paper or in the air; I don’t like reading too much; I like to move around when I talk and when I listen; When I have to listen to someone for a longish time, I like to do something physical like doodling or rocking in my chair; I speak at a slower pace than most people and I favour words like ‘grab; handle; concrete; sensitive; flow; pressure; stress; structure; boils down to’ in my conversations; I look silly when I talk over the phone because I use a lot of gestures when I speak; I learn new things by using it or trying it out, hands-on is my motto; I remember people by what we did together when we met last; I’m not good with detail but I generally have a good instinct/gut feel about things; In my free time I participate in some physical activity or make things.”

You’ve got it nailed down! This is the Kinesthetic person, the one who feels the world around him/her, a person who is perhaps fidgeting while you’re talking to them and who find it hard to sit or stand still in one spot for even a short period of time. They are the touchy-feely types who add movement and feeling to our lives. They make up 40% of the population.

Do you recognise yourself in any of these three characters? It is most likely you are a combination of the three since we operate over all three modalities. As we mature, we tend to develop a subconscious preference of one over the other and if we can detect our personal preferences, we’re well on our way to be able to pick those of our listeners.

“If what you’re doing, isn’t working, try something else.” NLP adage

Rapport is a form of influence. When you are communicating with someone else you are part of a system. The quality of the rapport that you have will influence the communication. This usually does not need much conscious attention. When you have rapport you know it, you feel at ease in the other person’s company. What happens is like a dance: as one moves the other follows and it’s very hard to tell who is leading and who is following as you naturally seek to match each other.

By merely observing someone’s behaviour and listening to their voice and choice of words when he/she talks, one can start to detect his/her preferred modality of communication. In normal circumstances, we tend to use a mixture of all three modalities and a lot of the time rapport is developed naturally. It’s when you feel you’re just not connecting with someone or rapport is not happening that you need to reconsider your approaches. If you know your own preferred modality and in comparison with your listener find you are very different and it is important you have a positive outcome, it is suggested you subtly mirror their behaviours and shift from your comfort zone to theirs. Think ‘chameleon’ – change your colours so you become like them so they can relate to you better.

How do we do this? Behaviours which can be observed and subtly mirrored (copied) are:

Posture: position of body/legs/feet. If exact mirroring is not comfortable, try cross-over mirroring. For example if a guy is leaning back in a chair, hands folded behind his head and legs crossed with ankle on the knees, and you feel this is going to be too obvious or impossible (because you’re wearing a dress), then only mirror the leaning back and cross your legs at the ankles only. Remember to stay subtle.

Expression: direction of the look, movement of the eyes

Breathing: rate of breathing and position – in the chest or low stomach.

Movement: general level of energy shown

Voice: pace, volume, pitch, tone, intonation,

Language patterns: favoured words e.g. see (visual); hear (auditory); feel (kinesthetic)

If you’re worried you may be ‘caught out’ when doing this, please remember that all of us do these things on a subconscious level and most of us are not aware of our actions, tones or choice of words. You’ll be surprised to see how much of this mirroring and matching you already do. To be cautious though is not a bad thing – little, subtle changes are the best.

Finally, if necessary, shift from your preferred communication modality to theirs: Here’s how we can do it in a sales situation:

To sell to Visuals:

• Use words like ‘clear; bright; perspective; show; notice.’

• Use brochures, samples; advertising sheets for them to read

• Draw pictures, graphs

• Use gestures

To sell to Auditories:

• Use words like ‘sound; tell me; listen; hear; tune; ring.’

• Use background music to enhance your conversation

• Use brochures to talk to

• Use referrals, tell stories: “Nicole said..;” “I heard Cate uses…”

To sell to Kinesthetics:

• Use words like ‘sense; feel; touch; grab; impression.’

• Use product samples to allow them to feel/hold and test

• Use space and allow them to move around

• Use demonstrations on them, let them feel/experience it

In my next post I’ll explore in more detail how you can specifically capitalize on this knowledge of verbal and non-verbal communications to ensure you cater for the unique learning style your listener has. There’ll be something about Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic preferences, but more about learning behaviours. If you are responsible for training, that upcoming post is a ‘must read’.

To write this post I used the work of Kerry L. Johnson: “Selling with NLP” and Sue Knight: “NLP at work”. I highly recommend both books if you wish to read more about the subject. A free VAK learning styles test is available at:

About Rolene
Independent Consultant specializing in Sales Messaging (including Presentation Literacy), Methodologies and Coaching Skills

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