Establishing a degree of rapport is a simple active tool for improving communication. It is based on the principle that people engage more with people who are similar to themselves – and the fact that if someone is interested in another person, they will naturally tend (unconsciously) to become more like them.
At a basic level, establishment of rapport starts with mirroring the other person in terms of body posture, movements and language. The classic example of natural rapport is that of a couple who are deeply (and usually recently) in love: over a restaurant table they will adopt matching body shapes and movements and use exactly the same words.
The most extreme – but common – example is the joint adoption of baby words, the use of which by both parties is an important part of maintaining the relationship. Neither of them is fully aware of the mirroring effect because they are so absorbed in each other. In a business environment it’s possible to achieve a similar effect without going to these extremes when it is done carefully.
This group are obviously in rapport: we sense immediately that the three people are actively engaged with each other, despite the fact that they retain their individuality. Notice that they are all resting their chins on their hands and they are leaning in towards each other. We can see that two of them have their legs crossed in different ways, and assume that the third person probably has have crossed legs too. The scene looks natural and unforced, and the people involved are probably unaware of how closely they have matched each other.
Aping someone else’s body movements all of a sudden is likely to be obvious and create resistance. But it’s possible to ease into rapport by choosing one aspect – maybe breathing rate, or position of arms or legs, and start by discreetly mirroring that. Baby words are clearly out, but there are direct equivalents in terms of business slang (“24/7”, “end-to-end process”, “the buck stops here”, “get with the program”) – it’s not a coincidence that tightly knit business teams tend to develop their own internal language and phrases.