How to quickly build rapport with your students

“Rapport is the ability to enter someone else’s world, to make him feel that you understand him, that you have a strong common bond. It’s the ability to go fully from your map of the world to his map of the world. It’s the essence of successful communication.” -Anthony Robbins

rapportIn the art and skill of teaching, building rapport with your students is essential. When you build rapport, you can take your listeners along a journey, influence their development, and open up new possibilities in learning. Your outcomes become possible. Without rapport, people may hear you, but they won’t really be listening to you. You simply will not get the reception you hope for.

Rapport is a state where you hold the attention of your listener’s unconscious mind. They feel what you have to say is relevant, so they pay closer attention. Your ideas can go in deeper to their minds, and theirs in to yours. It is a state you can learn to create.

Often people think of rapport as a feeling of being in harmony or ‘liking’ but it is certainly possible to like someone but not really be listening to them. You can also dislike someone and yet be utterly rapt with attention. It may help to smile and be nice, but it isn’t the whole story.

Communicating similarity

When we work backwards from observing two people in a state of rapport, we notice a general pattern of similarity being communicated either verbally, non-verbally, or both. Once you get this, you’ll start to notice it everywhere. Look at people meeting up at restaurants or in coffee shops- the ones who have each other’s attention will often be, at one part of their body or another, mirroring or matching the other person. If you listen in, you might hear verbal similarity- it could be in the content or it could be in analogue characteristics such as tonality, volume and speed of how they speak with each other. Sooner or later, the next time you are in a state of connection with someone, you might also notice that your postures begin to mirror each other in some way.

One of my favorite examples of mirroring leading to a long term friendship is the scene from Miyazaki’s cartoon “Future Boy Conan”. In this scene, Conan first meets Jimsy on an island as a complete stranger. You’ll see how they don’t precisely start out as friends but they certainly have each other’s attention! This is what deep rapport looks like: holding attention of the other person’s unconscious mind!


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Of course, Jimsy and Conan end up becoming life long best friends! Similarity is a powerful signal. It tells us what is relevant to us because we listen to those who we think of as similar. We want to know or feel an affinity with the person we are listening to so that his or her ideas are relevant for us. When we experience this with others, our bodies and language production work together at an unconscious level to signal, “yes, I am like you, yes we are similar”

Non-verbal similarity is communicated by mirroriring people slightly. In a class, you can simply mirror the tilt of each student’s head and shoulders one by one. Look at each person directly as if they are the only person that exists in the world for you. It can be done subtly and naturally.¬†

Verbal similarity is communicated by simply stating the obvious. You want to get your listener’s to be thinking, “yes, what she just said is true!”

  • When you notice a person breathing in, you can say, “you are breathing in”
  • When notice a person has their feet on the floor, you can say, “your feet are on the floor”
  • If everyone is sitting on a yoga mat, say “you are all on your yoga mats”
    and so on…


Remember: this is different than telling them what to do!

If I tell someone, “breathe in!” it is asking them to take an action. They have to judge the merits of the statement and their capacities to take that action. A pacing statement has a different function- it does not ask anyone to do or be anything other than what they are right now. It signals “I see you”. This opens up a possibility for your listener’s minds to think, “yes, what you are saying is right!”. This is called ‘pacing’.

Back Track Pacing

It’s also useful to pace people’s history. This could simply be a review, like the way TV series recap “in last week’s episode‚Ķ”

This works if you are working with people in a continuing way or you are all returning from lunch break. Back-track pacing helps to re-mind them of what content you presented before and works to strengthen their memories. If however you are addressing a group for the first time, whether live or in a video, you can ind things to back-track pace that are undeniably true for your audience even if you do not know them.

For an example, I know that:

  • They woke up in the morning
  • Traveled to get where they are
  • That something motivated them to be here
  • With yoga, if with a slightly more advanced group, I will say, “we all had our very first class of yoga”. This immediately gets them internally focused and referencing how long they have been at it. It can be an excellent back track pace

When you pace enough things that are undeniably true, it becomes plausible that whatever follows is likely to be true as well. This is the true value- because when you switch to leading whatever you say will be easily accepted. You have established a connection which makes teaching and learning easy.

Pacing is not meant to replace instructions or content but rather to add to your choices in communication to affect the way you hold people’s attention. Once you have their attention, then it becomes possible to offer something that they will listen to and take in at a deeper level.

Rapport with a belief?

Learning to build rapport technically takes time and practice. Yet the thing is, you already know how to do it. If you can empty your mind, really look in to people and hold the thought “I like youfor a moment, you may find that you may naturally start to mirror them, and them, you! Discover what you do naturally when you feel rapport with another. What did you do or say just before rapport comes on that may have helped to bring it on? It is certainly worthwhile to consider…

If you’re interested in training or coaching to develop your abilities in building rapport, feel free to connect with me

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