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Establishing Rapport: The Key to Persuasion

Stephen McGarvey

The ability to transform ourselves and to persuade and influence others depends on the subtleties of effective communication and the essential fact that thinking impacts emotions, which in turn drive behavior. In order to effectively move someone to action, we must understand how the mind filters information. 

One thing lies at the heart of persuasion and influence — and that something is rapport. Rapport is important in many areas of life, whether it’s relating to a waiter in a restaurant, your boss, your family, your doctor, your therapist, or your team coach. Whatever your role, it’s important to establish rapport before you begin to use persuasion techniques. 

Rapport is Critical to Persuasion

Rapport begins with making the other person feel understood. 

The feeling of being understood validates our model of the world and gives us a sense of connection. By giving someone the experience of being understood, we trigger emotional fulfillment within them. Once you’ve established rapport, others will be much more likely to communicate freely with you and follow your lead. 

Think About Your Thinking

When building rapport, it’s important to remember that communication consists of more than just what is said out loud. Yes, you must pay attention to your spoken language — what you say and how you say it. But remember that tonality and physiology (body language) are also crucial when building rapport. These elements can be broken down into the seven building blocks of rapport:

  1. Postures, gestures
  2. Facial expressions, blinking
  3. Breathing
  4. Voice—tone, tempo, pitch, volume
  5. Word cues—visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.
  6. Eye patterns
  7. Key words and the language of motivation 

Be Authentic

Authenticity is when you say and do the things you actually believe. 

Your success in building rapport hinges on whether you are consistently perceived as being genuine and transparent. The best way to get someone to care about something they don’t yet care about is to connect it to something they do care about. If you’re curious about what’s important to someone—and why it’s important and relevant to them—that in itself is being authentic. 

Us and Them

Like it or not, research shows that liking and trusting people who are similar to us is a hard-wired feature of human beings. So, how do you show other people you are like them? By pacing them: their movements, words, thought patterns, and more (think back to the seven building blocks of rapport above). 

When you pace another person, you become their “reflection”—physically, mentally, and emotionally. When done correctly, the person will unconsciously see themselves reflected in you. This reflection will provide a sense of sameness and help give them the feeling of being understood. Done properly and subtly, pacing can significantly boost your persuasive power. 

Show You Understand

One way to convey your understanding of how someone thinks is by reflecting that understanding back to them by matching and mirroring their linguistic style through your tone, rate of speech, and language patterns. Hostage negotiators and successful lawyers excel at this. 

Matching and mirroring others is part of how we pace their current reality in order to give them that experience of being understood. You can pace something simple like a gesture, or a combination of things that might include verbal patterns, styles of thinking, and strategies. Whatever approach you take, your goal is always the same: to reflect the person’s current state back to them enough to enable them to feel understood. 

Establishing rapport by pacing another person’s words, verbal tone, gestures, and all the rest is a highly effective technique. To determine how much pacing you need to do, notice if the person is willing to follow you. If they follow you, then you know that you’ve paced enough. If they fail to follow, then you need to pace some more, deepen your rapport with them, and then lead again. Pace only as long as necessary for them to begin to follow your lead. 

There are a variety of ways to show you understand while continuing to maintain your own viewpoint. There’s a fine line between empathy and agreement, between understanding a person’s world view and adopting it yourself. There is also a fine line between eliciting what someone is truly thinking as you interact with them versus the instillation of ideas, beliefs, and biases. To be a highly regarded and effective leader, be genuine in establishing rapport as you move someone to Think  Feel  Do.


Written by Stephen McGarvey.
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Stephen McGarvey
Stephen McGarvey is an international speaker, an expert on persuasion and influence, and the founder of a boutique consulting firm, Solutions In Mind. He assists corporations and audiences around the world in solving difficult communications problems by guiding them on an engaging, fast-paced, fascinating journey inside the unconscious mind. His new book is the USA Today and Wall Street Journal #1 Best Seller Ignite a Shift: Engaging Minds, Guiding Emotions and Driving Behavior (Morgan James Publishing, July 2022).


Stephen McGarvey is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.