Building Rapport: Style before Substance

Over 90 per cent of a sales dialogue is interpreted through non-verbal communication. This includes facial expressions, physiology, and body language or positioning. But it also includes your tone of voice, and such other factors as your choice of clothing, the car you drive, or the brand of laptop

computer you use. Since we tend to react more to what we think a person meant than to what they actually said when attempting to build rapport, we need to pay just as much attention to our non-verbal signals as we do to our words.

In his book, “”You Have To Be Believed To Be Heard,”” renowned speech coach Bert Decker confirms that trust and rapport are developed through positive non-verbal communication. According to Decker, the power of body language is so strong that it can literally take less than a minute for trust to be built or eroded based on non-verbal communication alone. Successful sales people have known for a long time that decision makers buy from sales people they like and trust. Positive non verbal communication is therefore, critical to your sales success.

Of course, positive body language doesn’t just mean smiling, making eye contact, or assuming an open stance. Researchers say that when you match or mirror the postures, gestures and tone of voice of whomever you are communicating with, their brain receives unconscious signals that say, “”Hey, you’re like me!”” Since people trust those who are most like themselves, you need to think of non-verbal rapport as a dance, where you are the follower and whomever you want to influence is the leader.

Now that you know that non-verbal communication is such an important part of selling, there are a few techniques you can try to strengthen the rapport you have with others. Remember, the key is to be subtle and discreet. The purpose of mirroring, for example, is not to mimic precisely what a person is doing, such as scratching your left cheek whenever they do. It simply means trying to capture the atmosphere of the interaction, while keeping your actions outside their conscious awareness.

Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Non-Verbal Communication

First, keep yourself in check by making sure that your body language, words and tone all match. Someone recently said to me, “”I’m so sorry, you’ll be much happier with this solution,”” and it made me even more upset. How could that be? Shouldn’t I be happy that this person was trying to solve my problem? Not in this case, because her words were out of sync with her body language. As she was telling me that she would have the problem fixed, she was standing with her arms tightly crossed against her chest, her hip sticking out sharply to the right, and her eyes rolling. So, what I really heard was, “”What a huge pain in the butt you are, I can’t believe you’re making me go out of my way to find you something new.”” How effective do you think she was at influencing me towards her new solution?

Make eye contact with everyone in the room. Don’t stare or glare, but look equally at everyone — and don’t forget to blink! It’s been said that there are only three degrees of difference between equality (looking squarely at someone), egotism (looking down your nose at someone), and insecurity (looking up at someone with a bowed head). Try this yourself in the mirror to see how clearly even the subtlest difference comes across!

Capture the atmosphere and spirit of the conversation, and match the other person’s posture. Stand, walk, or sit like them. Pay attention to how they move or remain still. Then, gradually adapt your positions so that they match or mirror theirs.

Match their tone of voice. Vocal tone is comprised of pitch (high or low), speed (fast or slow) and volume (loud or soft). If those around you are speaking in quieter or more boisterous tones, do the same.

Be genuinely excited and enthused. People are more easily influenced when they sense that you are enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and interested in what you are sharing. So smile, and always look confident.

Check your attitude problems at the door. Use your positive body language list to reposition your attitude until your mood improves.

Know the audience you want to influence, and dress accordingly. If you know they are a suit crowd, wear a suit. If they’re a jeans and t-shirt crowd, choose something closer to that style. You’ll be surprised how quickly trust is built when you appear to be one of them.

Match the handshake of every person you meet. Yes, contrary to popular advice, if you get a “”wet fish””, then give them a limp handshake right back. Similarly, match a crushing grip with your own strongest hand-masher. This exercise is especially fun in receiving lines, or when greeting many people coming into a meeting!

Gesture and motion as others do, or don’t. If they fold their arms and lean back, you do it too.

Send thank-you cards to everyone you meet, everyone who takes the time to talk to you about themselves or their business, and everyone who helps you with something. Make sure these cards are handwritten on good stationary, usually the simpler the better, and don’t use them for advertising or self-promotion. I’ve found that, for every six of these notes I send out, I get two inquiries about my business, and one new customer. Why does it work? Rapport. When you give something to someone, they respond in kind. In the case of a thank-you note, I give them my genuine interest in them or their business, and they respond by giving me their time or commitment.

Remember that it takes less then one minute to make an impression with a decision maker. Make the right impression and you will develop trust and get the sale. Develop the wrong impression and you will lose the business to someone else.


Colleen Francis is a certified sales professional advisor. You can catch her on the Web at

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