Rapport Behaviour in Negotiations

by Wayne Berry

Do you know the verbal and body language to gauge your level of rapport in your negotiations? Discover how you can alter your signals and change the level of your interactions.

The word 'Rapport' is a little understood word that is frequently employed in a cavalier manner. In many dictionaries it is defined as a “harmonious relationship”. The word “Harmonious” is defined as 'forming a pleasant whole: free from disagreement'.

Neuro Linguistic Programming may offer the better definition: “Seek to reduce the differences between ourselves and another person, at a non-verbal as well as a verbal level, at a level below the conscious awareness of the other person.” The word 'rapport' can then be best described as minimising the differences and maximising the ‘sameness’ between yourself and some other person.

How do we create rapport?

A negotiator sees rapport as a means to view their counter party's position and from their perspective. Negotiators must be willing to consider that the other party might see the world differently and subsequently, act differently. The resulting behaviour is neither right nor wrong.

How can this be accomplished?

Perhaps the best means to accomplish this is by pacing ourselves with the other party. Negotiators can do this in a respectful manner by altering our behaviour, our verbal responses and non-verbal body language, to match the physical and psychological behaviour of the other party. The other party may not be consciously cognizant of this activity, but they will do so subconsciously. In spite of their initial assumptions about us they may ultimately experience us as being more like they are.

We can pace the other party by heeding our body language by:

  • Complementing some or all of body movements to mirror the same posture, movements, etc.
  • Assuming a similar head and shoulder angle;
  • Reflecting facial expressions; and
  • Utilising the same gestures such as pointing and waving of hands.

Modulate our voice by:

  • Taking on the same tone, tempo, volume and intensity.

Adjust our phraseology by:

  • Employing similar repetitive phrases that they use with us such as: “You see my point, don't you? ”.

Alter our representational system the other party uses to present their views in language by:

  • Establishing which of the five representational systems is applicable:
    1. visual (“Appears fine to me.”)
    2. auditory (“I hear what you just said.”)
    3. kinesthetic (“It feels fine for me.”)
    4. gustatory (“This has the right taste.”)
    5. olfactory (“It has a good scent.”)
  • By corresponding the preferred representational system and thus get the same inner wavelength

Match our breathing by:

  • Duplicating the depth and breathing speed

Alter our general behaviour by:

  • Carefully noting how they dress and then matching this preference

Are there situations where we should we break rapport?

There comes a point in any negotiation where you might desire to subconsciously make the other party feel uncomfortable with you. This need might occur when the other party were to suddenly resort to becoming loud, aggressive and obstructionist. Subconsciously, you might very subtly respond by, beginning to reward acceptable behaviour to maintain your rapport and to punish unacceptable behaviour by breaking rapport.

Leading the Other Party

When rapport has been built on a solid foundation it now becomes possible to lead the other party towards a desired outcome. For example, you might lessen the rate of your speech, decrease the tone of your voice, breathe with more control and slowly, to present a more relaxed image where you sense the other party is becoming stressed and very tense. Without realising they are doing so, the other party will likely match this more relaxed approach.

[Adapted from: Negotiating in the age of Integrity by Wayne Berry, Positive Paperbacks, London, 1996.]

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