Marilyn Atkinson is the Founder of Erickson Coaching International and originator of the Solution-Focused Coaching methodology. A former Registered Organizational Psychologist, Marilyn is an NLP Master Trainer and specialist in Ericksonian Communications. Since 1980s she has been helping leading global companies and leaders through Solution- Focused and Outcome-Oriented Coaching. Marilyn has authored eight books, including The Art & Science of Coaching trilogy (Inner Dynamics of Coaching, Step-by-Step Coaching & The Flow of Coaching).
Building Rapport for Transformational Coaching Conversations
Transformational conversations are the means by which you help yourself and others become aligned and purposeful humans. They are the way through which we, as humans, express and live from our inner truth while supporting others in doing the same. Rapport is at the heart of these conversations.
People Like People Who Are Like Themselves
The word rappoarte comes from the Greek language and means “to carry back to another person's experience of themselves.”
Rapport building is being willing to understand or experience another person’s view of the world as if you were that person. If you were to know what a person knows, have experienced what he or she has experienced, and want what he or she wants, you would be able to naturally enter into this person’s physical and tonal habits and world view. Because it is not possible to entirely walk in someone’s shoes, strong communicators build rapport through a willingness to understand and respect another person’s model of the world. The key is to honour the person by finding the common ground. This leads to successful results by asking powerful questions and by listening with curiosity and respect.
The deeper mind looks for understanding before it offers its wisdom into any conversation. Building rapport with a person—stepping into his or her world—is the easiest and fastest way of communicating with the deeper mind.
Your emotional brain loves sameness. It feels safe and most comfortable when communicating with people who are like you, who are considered part of your tribe or family. You can encourage a person’s emotional brain to relax and be open to a transformational conversation by using the basic skills of rapport in any conversation. You will be building a sense of shared value with the person so that the client will step into a relationship with you.
Interested in becoming a coach? Discover how Solution-Focused coaching skills enable you to create transformational change in yourself and others.
Finding Common Ground to Lead to Successful Results
When you deepen your understanding of a person’s world through a strong commitment to listen, understand, and communicate, it’s as if you are the person. The more you are the person, the deeper your understanding and respect for his or her world. The deeper the rapport, the more the person feels respected and understood. All of this means that there is a greater opportunity for a transformational conversation to happen. We have transformational conversations with people we value!
We use behavioural and tonal matching to develop strong physical rapport. With behavioural matching, you adopt part of a person’s behaviour. For instance, in a person-to-person conversation, you might sit in the same posture as the person. When the person strongly shifts positions, you gradually and gracefully follow. If they have very straight posture, you straighten up to sense their inner way of being. This is a form of respect, and it eases the ability to truly listen to the person.
The strongest rapport is created when we respect and understand a person’s core values. We become strong listeners when we take time to really pay attention and repeat back the people’s value words—the words that describe areas of true importance. On a personal level, you do not need to agree, but for transformational communication, it is important to respect where the other person is coming from. This is an essential part of who your client is and the first of the Ericksonian Principles – People are okay, just as they are.
Rapport is an elegant dance. It is very important to realize that rapport building is not about copying the person or mimicking behaviour. If a person feels copied, they might feel you are mocking them, which dramatically breaks rapport. Rapport starts when we quietly track the person’s behaviour and begin the dance of sharing their world of experience. Being “like them” is the doorway into sharing experience.
A Rapport-Building Exercise for Coaches
Here is a rapport-building exercise to try. Practice matching your breathing to another person until you get a sense of his or her rhythm. If the person seems rather dissociated or disjointed, you might start to slowly deepen your breathing and notice if the other person starts to deepen his or hers as well. Usually, a person will do so, unconsciously responding to you. This will enhance contact and will also assist the person to touch deeper levels of awareness. If you relax, the person will relax, too. He will particularly appreciate you after this type of relaxation, although he may not consciously recognize what you have done.
Without rapport, an effective coaching conversation cannot happen. Take time to be congruent with your own authentic values, and to move into an approach by respecting and understanding your clients for who they are, without judgment or an attempt to change them. A person must feel safe and understood to open up to deeper meaning. When you have integrity using a rapport-building approach, the person will see, hear, and feel it, and this makes a powerful difference in the transformative possibility of the conversation.