“We like people like ourselves”

Unknown origin

In a previous article I gave my take on the Emotional Bank Account principle by Stephen Covey, it’s a representation of the health and balance of our relationships with people. Once your friendship groups and relationships with colleagues are established, it’s easy to settle and simply maintain those relationships. When something changes dramatically we can find ourselves forced to widen our network, or to feel pressure to create new relationships.  If you’re out of practice that can seem like a really difficult thing to do. As a Business Leader, Executive Coach and in previous roles, a Sales Person I’ve learnt some priceless tips and techniques for developing relationships. It starts with establishing rapport, an unconscious phenomenon that helps you (and whoever you’re meeting) ‘feel’ instantly connected and at ease.

In simple terms, rapport is ‘the ability to relate to others in a way that creates a level of trust and understanding, generating a relaxed and positive relationship’. It happens when you feel that the other person is being open, and you sense a ‘common connection’, that this person is ‘like me’. You don’t actually say those words to yourself, but at an unconscious level you find yourself warming to them and liking them. You won’t always realise it, but that is what is happening.

“Rapport is the ability to enter someone else’s world, to make him [or her] feel that you understand them, that you have a strong common bond.”

Tony Robbins

The first step in creating rapport is to move your thinking and feelings from yourself, to the other person. You have to consider what they may need, what they are thinking and feeling, to be interested in them. This sounds like a simple act, but it doesn’t come naturally to most of us. We are so interested and ’caught up’ in our own lives, that rarely do we genuinely consider other people’s thoughts and feelings, unless there is a specific reason to do so. Rapport is critical at the beginning of a relationship. The recent evidence shows that we make such quick judgements about people that the first impression matters more now than ever before. Studies show that you have a ‘7 second window’ to make your first impression. You then have approximately another 4 minutes, at which point most people’s minds are made up about you, and changing their opinion becomes an uphill struggle.

“You’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Will Rogers

If the first impression is so important, how do you make sure yours is the best possible? There are a number of things to remember when you are meeting people for the first time that will improve your chances of making a positive first impression. Here are three simple things you can do:

1 – Smile & offer your hand

“To build your self-image, you need to join the smile, firm handshake and compliment club”

Zig Ziglar

When someone smiles at you, you’ll notice that it’s really difficult not to smile back. The reason for this is that a smile is not something we usually think about, it’s an unconscious reaction to someone or something. When we smile at someone they feel compelled to smile back without thinking about it, they don’t know why, they just do. The other positive consequence of smiling is that it releases endorphins (the brain’s feel-good chemicals), so it will actually make you (and the other person) feel happier and reduce your stress levels. So, always start with a large, warm, authentic smile and you will almost always, be guaranteed one in return. The same is true with a hand-shake, when you extend your hand to shake someone else’s, they feel compelled to reach out and shake yours in return, again it’s unconscious (there are some countries where shaking hands is not integrated into their culture, but in the ‘Western world’ this holds true). A handshake is regarded as a friendly, introductory signal. It originates from a time when a handshake signified that someone was unarmed and meant you no harm. Today it is regarded as a polite, inviting gesture that builds early rapport.

2 – Be curious

“People are not interested in you. They are not interested in me. They are interested in themselves – morning, noon and after dinner”

Dale Carnegie

When we first meet someone new, it’s easy to feel pressure to make a good first impression. A trap many people fall into is talking about themselves in the attempt to come up with something interesting, amusing or impressive. The truth is that this approach is more likely to make people ‘tune out’ rather than ‘tune in’ to you. The longer this goes on, the worse it gets, with people then thinking that you’re not interested in them at all. The answer is much easier than you might think and certainly easier than the pressure you put on yourself when you have to do all the talking. It’s simply to be curious about the person you’re meeting. I use the term ‘be curious’ because it naturally creates an environment where you ask questions and then listen to the answers you are told. Take care though, when you ask questions you must listen to the answers you are given, it is the ultimate display of respect and shows your engagement. When you foster your own curiosity, you will learn things about people that will surprise and astound you. Just remember that everyone has lived a life and has fascinating stories, but you will only hear about them if you’re curious.

3 – Use your ‘body language’

“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

In a famous experiment conducted by Dr. Albert Mehabrian on communication he suggested that when you break down our interpretation of communicated messages, body language constitutes 55% of our interpretation of those messages (with the content/ words being 7% and tonality/ emphasis being 38%). What this means in practice is that we are much more aware of how a person ‘acts’ than we are of ‘what they say’ or ‘how they say it’. When we’re building rapport with someone, and we are curious about them, we can strengthen (or deepen) that rapport through the use of our body language. The techniques I teach to my clients are to “match and mirror” the person you are with, this is as simple as noticing and copying their own body language. The key physiologies to notice are; head position, posture, stance, leg positions (folded or straight), arm positions & motions, and breathing rate. Once you notice these, simply reflect them back as if you were acting as a mirror to that person. This may sound like a lot to take in, but when you are with family and friends you do this instinctively without even thinking about it. Once you are aware of the importance of body language in rapport, you can consciously change it and within minutes (once you’ve built unconscious rapport) it will continue by itself! You just have to give it a positive start and the rest will take care of itself.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence therefore is not an act, but a habit”


If you focus on (and practice) building rapport you will be able to strengthen all of your relationships. These three simple principles will help you to engage people around you in a more authentic way, whilst making you (and them) feel less stressed and more in control. They are simple, easy and effective, I hope you enjoy trying them out with your family, friends and colleagues. As a leader your ability to engage the people around you is a huge enabler to yours and their success. If you can integrate this approach into your leadership style, you will increase the engagement and interest of your teams, and they will genuinely appreciate you for it.

As always, I wish you every success in applying this on your own leadership development journey.

Justin Leigh is an accredited Executive Coach and Leadership Mentor. He works with Senior Leaders to develop High Performance organisations. His passion is helping people to become the best they can be. He has worked for large corporations for over 20 years and is experienced in Leadership, Business, Sales & Marketing.

Justin is the Managing Director of Focus4growth Ltd. He can be reached at the following address:

email: [email protected]

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