The KEY Questions: How do I stay in rapport?

It’s a normal working day for me, so after what is hopefully a peaceful night’s sleep I go through my regular morning ritual. That involves showering (unless I’m off to the gym for an early work-out, in which case there’s very little point) and eating a good hearty breakfast. Food is very important to me – hence the regular visits to the gym to keep the pounds off – because without sufficient calories inside me my mood can sometimes dip and I can slip into my alter ego: ‘grumpy dad’. If you want to know what grumpy dad is like just ask my kids. I’m like a bear with a sore head and they generally run for cover. But providing there’s cereal, toast and coffee I’m good to go and looking forward to my first appointment of the day.

I’m on my way to meet a new client, someone who has been introduced to me through a recommendation from a mutual friend but who I have never actually met. The venue is a local hotel with its own golf course (a definite plus) that’s a five-minute drive from my house. I use this place because the setting is beautiful and the lounge is spacious. Most importantly it’s quiet. There are big comfy armchairs and the waiters move discreetly from table to table refilling our coffee cups.

I’m a semi-permanent fixture, having meetings here maybe three times a week on average. Very often these meetings are to catch up with ongoing clients, some of whom have become good friends, but today is slightly different. I am preparing to meet someone new. So what, you might ask, is on my mind at this moment? My answer:

Nothing at all.

Zilch. My mind is empty. Right now I am not a coach preparing to sit down with a client. It is not a one-up-one-down relationship. We are simply two human beings having a collegial conversation, as though we had met down the pub. I do not have to ready myself to deal with the client’s problem, because I know there is no problem. There is only thought.

Now I’ve made no secret of my transition from Neuro Linguistic Programming, the meta-discipline that I studied and taught for the best part of a decade, to the Three Principles understanding that I now teach. That transition, now complete, formed the basis of my book ‘Joyride’, which charts in a roundabout way my journey through the world of personal development.

I hope I have made clear the huge debt I owe to NLP and the various mentors who trained me with such love and dedication. I should add I’m also hugely grateful to those students over the past year that have allowed me the freedom to share my new insights within the framework of the last few NLP practitioner courses I have run. They will find many of the models, techniques and visualisations of NLP extremely useful, as I have in the past. NLP has influenced my thinking in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I started on this journey. However there’s one particular model that now seems to me quite wrong-headed, and I wonder how I could ever have thought otherwise.

You could say that I’m ‘out of rapport’ with Rapport.

Rapport is clearly an important part of any human relationship, business or otherwise. The trouble is – and this is a general rule that applies across the board in life – the more you think about it the less likely it is you will have it with your clients (or for that matter your partner, your friend or your cat). ‘Rapport’, as it is taught in NLP, involves a lot of thinking, or rather careful observation, which amounts to the same thing. You train yourself to become aware of the other person’s posture so that you can mirror and match it. You look for visual clues: how fast or slow are they breathing? What is their energy level? What can you tell from their skin tone?

It’s all ‘outside in’.

I’ve discovered that my best chance of achieving rapport with another human being is simply to listen to him or her with a loving feeling and nothing much on my mind. In this way thoughts and reflections come to me naturally, spontaneously. Any ideas I may have about my role or status in the relationship will impede that process, as will any thoughts about ‘how I’m doing’, how the other person is doing, how they’re sitting, how they’re breathing and the rest.  Thoughts are powerful and they will make it harder for me to listen, every time.

May I suggest, if you are a coach meeting a client for the first time, that you get some sleep, have something to eat so your tummy isn’t rumbling, turn up and relax as best you can. Have nothing on your mind but speak feeling from your grounding when it feels right. Rather than focussing on your client like a specimen in a laboratory try instead to have a good feeling. That good feeling will draw the other person into your ‘safe space’ where it may be possible for both parties to do some healing. Or at the very least have a meaningful conversation.

That, for me, is rapport.