The secret of instant rapport
How to build instant rapport by going beyond matching, mirroring and leading
There's a key element of instant rapport building which is often missed - even by the supposed rapport building 'experts'.
The main components of rapport building are matching, mirroring, and leading. The general idea is that when you want to build rapport with someone, you mirror or more subtly match their body posture, their speaking tone and pace, and the kind of language they are using, so that they unconsciously start to feel that you are like them, that you are in tune with them. Then, bit by bit, you start to lead them by gradually manifesting a particular line of thought, or a more relaxed behaviour, so that now, they are compelled to follow your ideas, or increasingly relaxed body posture, or whatever it may be. These elements are the basic - and highly effective - building blocks of good rapport, and perhaps rather familiar, though no less important for that. But you can gain instant rapport with anybody through the power of utilization.
Here's a true story. Years ago, when I was a fledgling hypnotherapist, I had a call from a man who had been severely injured in a rugby accident sustained while he was in the military, and who had been left disabled. He wanted help with pain management so he could take an Open University degree. Because of his disability, he could no longer stay with his elite commando unit. I went to see him at home.
As soon as I saw him, I could tell that here was an extremely 'masculine' man. He just exuded testosterone. I intuited that this very overtly macho guy would be pretty suspicious of any man he deemed less masculine than himself. As if to corroborate my appraisal, my eye then fell on his right hand. The word 'HATE' was boldly tattooed across the knuckles. I looked at his left hand. It was the same.
There wasn't much room for manoeuvre with this guy. Or time. The field of hypnotherapy, especially at that time, was awash with new age flummery. I knew I needed to work from his perspective as quickly as possible if I was to have any hope of facilitating a successful hypnotic trance. The merest hint of whale song, flowery gardens, inner wisdom or any of that stuff would have turned him off instantly and I would have lost him. Now I knew that, having served a long time in the military, he knew how to go into trance - though I doubt he himself would have recognized the narrow focus of attention essential to military training and practice as hypnotic experience!
So I set out to utilize his understandings and experience. I explained in very down to earth words and as straightforwardly as possible the nature of hypnotic trance - the narrowed focus of attention, the fast passing of time and so forth. He connected to it immediately: "I know what you mean!" he said, "because when we used to march twenty miles with packs on our backs I wouldn't even notice the discomfort or the time passing, I was totally in the zone!" So now all I had to do was to re-evoke a military exercise for this man. In no time at all, he was there in his mind... and from a state of intense focus he was already deeply familiar with, it was easy to lead him step by step from that very alert focused state of mind to a deeply relaxed one in which his mind could achieve the receptivity needed to integrate new ideas, perspectives and abilities for pain control. At the end of the session he said that he felt I was the only professional who had ever really understood him.
The utilization principle is vital not just for teaching people how to go into hypnosis but for all teaching and all communication. Nor is it just about therapy, though the examples I give here come from that field. Whenever you meet somebody, or seek to influence them, the utilization principle can work for you. The simplest approach is to talk about what interests the person you are talking with, even if it isn't what particularly interests you. Great communicators - which by the way also includes people who are great at flirting! - do this quite naturally. Utilizing the interests of the person you are talking with is an easy way of getting them interested in the conversation you are having with them. Gradually, once they are fascinated, you may be able to introduce topics that you find more interesting.
The utilization approach is very powerful and many people use it quite instinctively, but sometimes too much professional training can knock it out of people.
Occasionally I can tell just from listening to people, when I meet them for the first time, not just that they have had therapy, but sometimes even which particular 'ideology' their therapist was trained in. Sometimes people talk as if they have swallowed a self-help book, they have been so well and truly 'therapped', so to speak. Every other word is psych-jargon and it's clear that they have picked up the jargon of the particular therapeutic school followed by their therapist. The utilization principle does away with all this. The late great Milton Erickson, perhaps the greatest clinical hypnotherapist of all time, emphasized the vital need to enter the client's world and not inflict psycho-babble on them. You need to learn their language, their perspectives and understanding, in order to influence and heal them, rather than drag them into your way of thinking or seeing.
The worst kind of hypnotherapist is the one who just uses ready-made scripts, without regard to the uniqueness of the client in front of them. Understanding and practicing utilization means all scripts, or even limiting ideological pigeonholes, can be discarded.
Rather than trying to change people from the outside, the good therapist appeals to a individual's unique personality traits and interests to bring about change. This is a natural progression for the person and at the same time facilitates deeper rapport with them. Utilization is respectful. There is simply no need to overwhelm the client with jargon, or force our own interests on them.
For example, a smoker who is prone to angry outbursts could be led to direct their anger towards the cigarettes. This neither denies nor dismisses the reality of the anger, but utilizes it in a constructive way until the person can learn to manage their anger appropriately. And of course, in such a case, it could be argued that anger directed towards something so potentially lethal is perfectly appropriate.
So to a computer programmer with a phobia I might talk about the need for some new software to replace the old; to someone who loved the novel Wuthering Heights I might refer to the exhilaration and relaxation that comes from a walk on the wild and beautiful moors; to someone who was into hang gliding I might speak about rising above and beyond anxiety until it was barely visible, and so on. How can you be limited in your approach when there is such a variety of human beings? And Milton Erickson himself demonstrated that we can use even the problem itself, something that seems like a fault or deficit, as a way of helping someone progress in life.
Erickson once treated a suicidal girl who believed she was hopelessly unattractive and would never find a partner. She was convinced she was ugly because she had a gap between her two front teeth. Erickson did not try to convince her that she really was attractive. He did not tell her to ignore her worries. He did not try to find out what was 'at the root' of her problems. Instead, Erickson 'used' her problem by getting her to squirt water through the 'ugly' gap in her teeth at a young man she often encountered at the water fountain during her office break. The young man perceived this behavior as flirtatious and asked her out on a date. This woman who had thought herself unattractive partly because of the gap in her teeth now, through Erickson's intervention, found that this 'flaw' had become the catalyst for contact with the opposite sex.
In this way Erickson re-framed this woman's perception of herself and the possibilities open to her by utilizing what had been seen, by her, as a huge problem. Not once did Erickson try and talk the woman into believing that her gap really was attractive, or that she really was capable of dating. This is an almost Zen-like use of utilization. No rapport breaking, no argument, no therapy speak, no assumptions about problems running deeper - just direct utilization. By utilizing what a person brings to us we respect them deeply because we accept them as they are,not as we think they should be. The person you are dealing with will be aware of this at some level and feel beautifully understood by you.
I would go so far as to say that anybody who is really any good at psychology - that is to say, anyone who understands people and knows how to influence them - will hardly ever need to resort to psycho-babble that the man or woman in the street wouldn't understand. Having said this, it is important to understand that if the client has been trained to use jargon and this is part of their perspective, then utilizing their jargon, at least initially, can be perfectly appropriate.
The utilization principle is not a new idea in itself, but Milton Erickson re-introduced it as a clinical approach. In what looks like an unrelated field, the great stand-up comedians employ utilization all the time. What really seems to make people laugh are either things they recognize as true but perhaps never really put into words before, or everyday things exaggerated to an absurd degree. In both cases the comedian utilizes what the audience already understands.
I want to end with an ancient story. As with all the best stories, there are many layers, and many understandings you can take away. But as you read, perhaps you can see how the lion can represent a part of a person which is destructive to them.
Once upon a time there was a community of very unhappy animals living in daily fear for their lives. The reason for their low morale was a fearsome lion that had a great appetite. He would appear at random and devour an unfortunate animal, one for breakfast, one for lunch, and one for supper.
The animals hated the uncertainty and lack of control they had over their own lives. One day they hatched a plan to ease their suffering. They went to the rapacious lion and suggested that they would select from amongst themselves who would be the next meal. In this way the lion need not bother leaving his cave and they would at least have some sense of personal power over events. The lion was lazy as well as greedy and readily agreed to this. So every day at breakfast, lunch and dinner time the animals would draw straws and the unhappy animal that picked the shortest straw would have to present themselves up at the lion's cave as the next meal.
This state of affairs continued for a long time, until into this sad and fearful community came a clever young fox. He sensed the low morale of his fellow creatures and asked them the reasons for their lack of joy. On hearing of the tragic arrangement they had with the fearsome lion, he immediately suggested that he should be the next meal. "No!" they cried, "you don't understand, it's bad to be his meal, the loser of the short straw test has to go!"
"Ah, never mind that!" replied the fox. "What time do I have to be there?"
"One o'clock!" cried the animals in unison. So, after politely asking for directions, the young fox made his way to the lion's cave. But he took his time, and he dawdled along, and by the time he arrived he was extremely late. The lion was beside himself with rage, for he was not used to being kept waiting.
"Where have you been?" he bellowed. "How dare you, my lunch, keep me waiting?"
"I'm so sorry," said the fox meekly, "but you see, that other lion, the new one that has just moved into the area, was trying to insist I be his lunch. He said never mind that other lion! I told him that I was your lunch, so here I am, and we might as well get on with it!"
"Hold it!" said the lion, "Not so fast! What other lion? Take me to him straight away!" So in no time at all the young fox started leading the angry lion back through the forest, past the other amazed animals and up into an old quarry, in the middle of which was a deep well.
"The other lion lives deep within that well, but I must warn you," said the fox, "he is much stronger and fiercer than you!"
"We'll see about that!" bellowed the incensed lion. "Nobody warns me!" And with that he leaned over the edge of the well - to be met with the sight of his own reflection. Of course, he assumed it was the other ferocious lion, come to steal his territory, and forthwith launched himself into the well - never to be heard of again...
Stories, of course, can have multiple meanings and you shouldn't always be dissecting them, but the role of utilization in this one is clearly crucial. We can see how the fox focused on utilizing what could not be changed, not just putting up with it, or trying to fight it. The lion's aggression was put to work rather than ignored - but in such a way that it allowed the other animals to live in peace. The animals, the fox and the lion could all be different parts of the same person in this tale.
So, in future, when you are negotiating, or looking to influence somebody in some way, stop and think about what - and how - you can utilize from their personality or their interests or their background that can facilitate rapport between you and make a successful outcome more certain.
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