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The context for these videos

Each post in this short series is from Alec’s weekly livestream to the Facebook group Finding the Balance with Anxiety Freedom Cards. Each week I focus upon one of our innate resources or needs as depicted in the Anxiety Freedom Cards. And the reason I’m doing this is to show you how you too can live a life free from anxiety and stress.

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Below is a direct transcript from the video shown above.

Hello. Oh, haven’t put my microphone on! Last minute things. Hello. Welcome to another Tuesday Two o’clock Topic on this Tuesday, the 13th of July. The topic for today is another of our innate resources, something that we’re born with. It’s our natural ability to communicate with other people to develop a sense of rapport and a very important resource. And one that’s so much a part of normal everyday life that we sometimes even forget that it’s a thing. And, and yet it’s absolutely essential to effective communication.

So I’ll be sharing some ideas on the topic of this innate skill. This thing that we’re all born with. And the idea here is to explore each week, one of our innate skills or resources or attributes, if you like, and to explore how we can use it better, more effectively, and how to use it to get our innate needs met in balance because this whole approach is based on the idea that when we get what we need, then we have less stress and less anxiety in our life.

And so if we can effectively use rapport and be aware of its limitations and when it’s working and when it’s not working, then we can expect, quite realistically to have better relationships with other people, to have better understanding in our communications and for everything to flow more smoothly, which is always a good thing in my book.

If you’re watching this live, then please drop a comment below and let me know cause it’s always good to see you. And if you’re watching this on replay, let me know what you think about it either during or after you finish watching it. I love to get into a debate or discussion about these topics. And if you’ve got any ideas or criticisms or, or anything that you can offer to the debate, I’d be very glad to hear from you. So I say, it’s such a part of life that we can forget it’s a thing sometimes.

How do we develop rapport? What does it mean when we’re in rapport with someone? How can we tell? Well, if you look at the image, you can see these two people they seem to be getting on. Okay. Maybe it’s better if I hold it that way. And you can tell that even intuitively by looking at their body language, they’re mirroring and matching each other. They’re copying each other’s body position. And when two people are in rapport, that’s always a common feature. You can tell because they adopt mirrored and matched body positions almost automatically.

Now, of course, if you know about this, then you can do it deliberately. And it helps to strengthen that feeling that you’re connected and you’re on the same page, you’re on the same wavelength, but obviously you can overdo it as well. So it’s works best when it feels natural. And there are many ways to do this or that the most obvious thing is to basically make sure that you’re in a similar kind of body position to the person you’re trying to communicate with. So if they’re sitting, you should be sitting. If they’re standing, you should be standing. And there are various subtleties that you can add in to the mix, but it’s not just body position. It’s the style as well. So if somebody is relaxed, you need to sort of act relaxed. If someone is agitated and to have good communication with them, you need to act a little agitated. You have to meet people where they are. And so body position is an important factor, but also tone of voice is really important. That you match the person that you’re communicating with.

There are techniques that you can use, specific techniques that we’re taught as human givens therapists, such as using “Yes sets”. And this is where you get someone to agree with you very easily, a number of times in quick succession, because once you foster that spirit of agreement, even if you’ve slightly tricked them into doing it, it really works well. And I’m all about being authentic. So I’m not, I’m not into tricking my clients, but if I can use a language construct that gets a better connection with my client, then that’s always going to be to their benefit. So it’s worth doing, and the way you use “Yes sets” is you just say something to which the obvious answer is an agreement. So “I see you’ve made it okay.” If they’ve turned up at your door. They’re not going to say no, because they’re there.

I once had a, I was teaching a workshop and I was teaching the importance of building rapport. And somebody objected to this and said, well, I can’t possibly use that in my work. And I said, well, why not? And they said, well, I work for the council in a complaints department and I’m behind a glass screen. And there’s just a little vent that allows us to hear each other. And I can’t do, I can’t do rapport in that situation. And I said, do you know anything about the person who is in front of you? She said, well, I, I usually have their address. I mean, they’ve usually come to complain about a neighbor or something like that. And I said, so you could say, “I understand you live at 17 Acacia Close” and she could see actually, yeah, what are they going to say? No? They’re going to say yes. And if you can string together three or four “Yes sets” in a very natural flowing way then it just builds this sense of, oh, somebody is on my wavelength, they’re in agreement. And it really helps to get conversations going. So I do advocate it, but not to overdo it. You don’t want to come across as a used car salesman, you know, with the familiar tricks in the book, like “If you were going to buy this car, which color would it be?” You know, that’s, they’re always trying to get you to communicate with them because they know that rapport is essential to making a sale.

So “Yes sets” is a very useful tool to develop. And I think when I first learned them, I found it a bit artificial and a bit difficult, but the more I did it, the more natural it became, and now I don’t really have to think about it very much. Another thing to build rapport is to let the other person know that you’re hearing them. I know it sounds obvious, but it’s really important. And that means that you have to listen carefully enough to be able to relay back what you’ve just heard.

Now, some people in conversations, listen in order to respond, to share their point of view. But when you’re really trying to get a good connection with somebody and maybe somebody that you don’t know very well yet, then it’s really important to do everything you can to strengthen that bond. And one way of doing it is to listen very carefully and then to gently bounce back what they’ve said, but in your words, so they know that you’ve understood it and internalised it. And essentially that you’ve understood the emotional content of it as well. So echoing back is something that’s, that’s really useful in developing rapport, but as I say, you can over do it. So you need to be a little bit careful.

I’ve done quite a lot of couples work in my time. And sometimes, well, very often there are communication problems within couples who come to therapy, who come for help. There’s always other issues as well, but those other issues can usually be resolved if communication is strong and communication is often not strong. And I’ll talk about why this can happen so commonly a bit later on. People have different communication styles, and if they don’t match, then what one person expects from the other is not what the other person expects from the first. And then you get difficulties in communication. And one person will always feel not really heard by the other. So this idea of being able to do reflective listening is something that I’ve sometimes had to teach to couples. I teach it to both actually quite often, it’s one who needs to learn it and the other already knows it. So again, you have to be a bit diplomatic and there’s various ways that I illustrate it.

If I want to make, get a laugh and make a point, I will stand up in the therapy room, put my hands in my pockets and pace around the room while talking to the couple. And then I’ll point out how odd it feels. I mean, there isn’t really any effective communication when I act like that. And then if they, if I really want to make the point, I’ll lie on the floor with my head in my hand and start talking to them that way. And of course, it’s just too bizarre. You can’t communicate with a therapist who’s lying on the floor while you are dutifully sitting in comfortable arm chairs. So I’m just making the point really that actually, unless I sit at the same level and speak in a similar manner, I’m not really going to get any effective communication going. And it raises a laugh to do it dramatically like that.

Another way that I sometimes have taught it, although Bindi doesn’t really like this, this method, it works for me because I’m a kind of a procedural guy. I’ll pick up my phone and I’ll say, if I want to talk to my daughter and I’ve got this device that allows me to talk to her, what do I do? Do I just start talking? “Hello, Laurie. Are you there?” It’s not going to work is it, because I haven’t gone through the basic procedure of establishing a connection and that procedure involves turning the phone on checking the messages, dialing the number, waiting for the phone to be answered, you know, going through some various steps before it’s worth me saying anything at all, because until I’ve gone through that procedure anything I say won’t be heard. And if it’s heard it won’t be well, it just won’t go through if it’s a telephone line. And so what I’m really doing is I’m making the point that if you try to communicate without first establishing a connection, you’re wasting your time. You’ll either be misunderstood or nine times out of 10 you won’t even be noticed, you won’t be heard.

So rapport is an essential prerequisite for any kind of meaningful connection. And if you try communicating without it, you’ll see the results. You’ll have heard that phrase: “I’ve told him a thousand times!” Well, that only gets said, it’s only needs to be said a thousand times if it’s been said without rapport. If you are in rapport with somebody, you probably only need to tell them once, or maybe a few times if they’re forgetful. But the, when you say “I’ve told him a thousand times”, it’s a really clear illustration that you probably told him if it’s a him, while he was watching the England soccer match or something, and he’s focused, attention was focused somewhere else. Unless you have rapport, the message doesn’t go in.

I love the quote by George Bernard Shaw, which I’ll share. I’m gonna put this on the screen. Yes. The biggest, the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place ~ George Bernard Shaw

And I think that’s so true. You know, we, we say things to people we think, well, I’ve said it, so they must have heard it. So obviously the message has got through, but if it’s done without this first prerequisite of building, mirroring, copying, matching, pacing, then it won’t be heard or it won’t be understood the same way as you say it.

So, as I said at the start, this is such an automatic part of life that we often don’t think about it. But when communication is critical, then rapport is also critical and it’s worth focusing on it and making sure that you’re doing it. It doesn’t exist in much social media communication. I think that’s part of the problem with, with, you know, comments on Facebook, comments on Twitter is that very often people are just firing off their immediate response and there’s no opportunity to build rapport. And what, with the ability to misunderstand the typed word compared to the spoken word, it’s a minefield for misunderstanding.

And it’s even difficult on video calls like zoom calls. I’ve been in a couple of meetings over the last few days where there’s been maybe typically half a dozen people on the call. People who I’ve never met in person, but I’ve met a few times on zoom and you can build rapport. But one of the limitations of zoom is that it really doesn’t work if more than one person is speaking at the same time. And so if there is a group of people, you’ve kind of got to wait for a gap to jump in, and then you’ve got this kind of competitive, like, how much space do I leave before I make my contribution? Because I don’t want to hog the conversation. I want everyone to have an opportunity to speak, but we also don’t want those painfully long silences. Although to be honest, as I get older, I’m very happy with long silences because they tend to be more meaningful conversations if there’s thinking going on as well as speaking.

So I talked about the difficulties of it in social media. And this is why meeting in person is so important and why lockdown has been so difficult for so many people. I know I’ve struggled to, to get meaningful conversations with other people through technology or through technological media like this.

I’ve often called it the “phone-a-friend” card, because actually… I, I’ll share a story that’s from my own life, which was about when I lost my car keys. I’ve told it before so bear with me if you’ve heard it before, but Bindi and I went on holiday to Cornwall and we were camping and we arrived at the camp site. We put up our tent and we went into the town. We were camping close to the town of Bude. And the first thing we did, we parked the car in the car park by the beach and we went for a walk on the beach, cause it was just lovely weather and we hadn’t been to the seaside for a long time. And so we strolled along the beach for a while and then we wandered into town and we had some fish and chips and we got back to the car. I didn’t have my car keys. But what I did discover was a hole in my trouser pocket where the car keys had obviously fallen through.

And in the meantime, of course the tide had come in. So there was no point in looking on the beach because if they were there, they were under water. But we did walk around the town because we couldn’t get back into the car. We couldn’t unlock the roof box. We were stuck in a car park that was quite expensive on a daily charge and we have no way of moving the car. And so my first response was to get on my phone and to try and find support from either the AA or the RAC or Green Flag, whoever we were with at the time, I can’t remember, and that didn’t yield any results at all. So then I tried to contact VW the manufacturer of the car, and that wasn’t very helpful because I learned that they would issue a replacement key from their dealership, which was 40 miles away, if we could provide a passport and ID. And of course all that stuff was back at home. So that wasn’t very helpful. And then they said, if we did provide all that, they could order it from Germany. It would take two weeks to arrive.

Meanwhile, we’ve got a car in a car park and racking up huge charges every day and no way of enjoying our holiday. So I was getting quite stressed by this point and I spent the next 24 hours making phone calls, trying to find locksmiths, trying to do everything I could think of to do. I was using my rational thinking very effectively, but I wasn’t really getting anywhere at all.

And it wasn’t until the next day when we’re pretty much kind of given up, that I mentioned my woes to the owner of the camp site, who was a very friendly woman. And she immediately intuitively developed rapport with me, started talking about what kind of car it was and “Oh, well I know that Jim down the road, he’s he collects old spare parts for those cars and he might have the key fob”. And I thought, well, that will be useful, but it’s not much use on its own. But she said, well, if you can get someone to make a new key, you know, you could, you could use that fob.

So the conversation got going and actually within just half an hour, we spoke to this guy down the lane and he knew someone else and he knew somebody else. Before you could even imagine it we were, we had a solution which was a mobile locksmith who was a friend of a friend who came over in his very fancy van and cut us new keys on the spot and solved the entire problem.

But it was such a lesson for me because I’d been trying to solve the problem on my own, thinking that I was in the best position to solve the problem. And I was getting absolutely nowhere. And it wasn’t until I used the “phone-a-friend” card and actually spoke to other people that the solution became apparent. And once it did, it was very, very fast. And that was a sobering lesson for me because I learned then that I’m slow to ask for help. Very often other people have different perspectives, other angles on problems and other solutions to problems. And I, I’m now much more open to asking for help in situations where I feel stuck. It was an important lesson for me at that time.

I also mentioned earlier different styles of, of speaking and listening. And it’s very obvious to me that some people speak, they communicate to rapport. And what I mean by that is they communicate to build a connection. So all of the kind of small talk that we hear at parties, like “what’s the weather like?” and “how, how was the football?” and kind of all of these relatively trivial conversations that you kind of think, well, I personally, I have been in the past sometimes reluctant to engage in those because I think what’s the point? There’s nothing really of any value being exchanged here. The point is that they’re building a connection and building a reliable communication channel. And if you don’t go through those motions of the small talk, then, and you start broadcasting information. As I said before, it just doesn’t work.

Now, some people really prioritise this bonding exercise and my son’s wife calls her mum every couple of days and speaks to her, whether there’s any news or not. And they do it just because they’re mother and daughter and they want to be close. My son and I don’t speak very often. And when we do it’s because there are things to report. So one camp communicates to rapport. The other camp communicates to report and it’s worth being aware of what your own style is. And maybe the style of your partner, if you’re in a relationship, because if you only ever communicate when there’s information to convey, then you will very likely miss out on effective communication. You have to use a blend of building the channel before you use the channel. You know, like I say, with the phone, if you don’t switch the phone on and build the channel and make the connection, if you just start talking out of the blue, then nobody’s going to hear you. You have to establish rapport before you try to use it for a meaningful conversation.

Movement can have a very important effect on rapport. If you can do something together with somebody, a shared task, whether it’s gardening, whether it’s walking down the road together, traveling, going on a journey with someone is a brilliant way of building rapport because you’re moving in the same direction and rapport is about mirroring and matching. So when you’re on the same wavelength for someone, when you’re walking down the same street together, having a conversation, you’re automatically strengthening that common purpose, that common shared experience, which is essential to good communication.

And I think if you think about it, if you’re in disagreement with someone who you’re walking along the street with, you instinctively stop walking and you turn to face each other because it’s very hard to have a disagreement while you’re in this shared movement.

And I’ll share a story of a client I had a few years ago who had been traumatized. He suffered a pulmonary embolism, which was painful and scary for him, but what really freaked him out was the look in the doctor’s eyes. He was in a hospital when it happened. And he was frightened because of the, the consultant’s response. And since that time, he had been unable to exercise because every time he felt his heart racing, he got scared. He was pattern matching back to that, that event. And he did nearly die and he, he didn’t die, he made it through, but anything that raised his heart rate was so scary for him that he wasn’t able to exercise. And he was a very, he had been a very fit person who was very interested in all sorts of physical activities.

And so he came to me and we worked, we did the trauma work. We did a Rewind on these experiences. I think we did a couple of Rewinds, there’d been, it was a bit complex. I’ve simplified it for the story. But I do remember that after the rewind, I had a very clear sense that what my client needed was evidence that he could exercise without problems. He knew it intellectually. He felt different after the Rewind, he didn’t feel so scared and he could see that it had an effect on him. He felt different, but I knew that what he needed was evidence. And so I suggested that we go for a walk and we went for quite a good walk together while we talked through other aspects of why he’d come to see me. And there was one point in the walk where there was a slight rise. Actually it was reasonably steep rise. And I instinctively said to him, I’ll race you to the top, knowing that he’s a very competitive guy. And there was no way that if he really put his heart and mind into it, that I was going to beat him. So anyway, we set off at the light jog at this rise. And of course he, he went for it. He ran and he ran really hard and he got to the top and I don’t think it was until he got to the top that he realised what he’d done. And now we had evidence that he could exercise without dying, which was his fear before.

And of course it was a very strong rapport building exercise. And in fact, when I met him some years after his initial treatment, that was the bit he remembered, was the run, the run that we did together. I think it’s quite interesting that that was probably when we were most in sync in terms of communication. And that was because of the shared activity.

Rapport is such an important part of therapy. You know, you really can’t help someone unless you can hear them, unless you can communicate with them on their level about the things that matter to them. That some people think that’s all you have to do. And I, I do get a bit frustrated when I hear other therapists talking about, oh, well, you’re just there to hold the space and listen. And I kind of think, yeah, you are, that’s really, really vital, but it’s not enough. That if once you’ve got rapport, if you have some good ideas and I hope as a therapist you’ve got some good ideas for, for living well and for wellbeing and for general health, mental and emotional health, then you have an opportunity to share them if and when it’s appropriate. And so I think rapport is the first step. It’s not the whole journey. And I’m very much a believer in sharing whatever wisdom or knowledge you’ve picked up along the way, if, and when it’s appropriate to your client.

Now, if you’ve got a client who is very anxious and struggling, and you know, that 7-11 breathing will help them to be calm and relaxed, I think it’s fine to suggest it and to teach it. It’s an intervention, if you like. I don’t think you should listen, sit there in silence and saying, “How do you feel about that?” You know, if they’re panicking, you have a duty almost like first aid, to roll your sleeves up, get involved and actually help to calm them down. Because, you know, if you know anything about how brains work, that people who are very anxious can’t think clearly, and if they can’t think clearly they can’t hear what you’re saying, they can’t really benefit from the whole process. So the first step is to help people get calm. And also it’s worth noting that building effective rapport always calms people down. It’s very hard to stay agitated when you know, somebody is on your wavelength is really hearing you, is really listening to you. So one way of calming people is to, is to put a lot of energy and focus into strengthening the bond of communication so that you get good, effective rapport. So it lowers emotional arousal.

So I’m going to wind this up shortly, but I would just ask you to consider for a moment what you can do over the next week or two to either use rapport more, or to use it more effectively, or to just be more aware of it. Does that mean reaching out to somebody and making a connection just for the hell of it? One of the things I’ve noticed that when you prioritise rapport building, especially when you’ve got a problem to solve, it feels like a distraction quite often in the early stages, it feels like, well, have I really got time for this? I’ve got a problem to solve. If I’m going to get involved in building a connection with somebody, it’s not necessarily geared up towards where I’m headed, but the benefits almost always outweigh the difficulties. And I think sometimes, I know I’ve had to learn to back off the goal-oriented approach, slow down a bit, be friendly, talk to somebody, see where they’re at, you know, share a drink, share a cup of tea, go for a walk. Even if it doesn’t feel that it’s directly focused at solving your problem. If that’s what you’re trying to do, sometimes it can yield fruit that is way beyond what you might expect as it did with the car keys story earlier on. So I think we have to be patient, and sometimes we have to prioritise those things that might not seem directly relevant at the time, but that can pay back dividends from unexpected places.

What can you do over the next few days to either hone your skill, you know, practice “Yes sets”, learn some new “Yes sets” or learn some new ways of getting connected with people. Or try some new ideas in your therapy setting. You know, how do you go for a walk with clients? Do you prioritise movement in any way in your work? I recommend experimenting and trying different things because once you have a really strong rapport with your client, the world is your oyster. You can do almost anything and amazing changes can take place.

So I just wanted to finish with a story from Milton Erickson, which is one that made an impact on me when I was training. And it was a story of when he worked in a mental hospital with some severely disturbed patients. And there was this one patient in particular, who was very concerned about evil rays getting into his room and corrupting his mind. So he was a bit psychotic in effect because there was no evidence of any of these evil rays, but he was absolutely convinced. And so what he was doing was ripping up bits of newspaper and plugging the gaps around the windows and any gaps in the doors. And he was obsessively stuffing, little bits of, you know, folded up newspaper into all the gaps so that the evil rays couldn’t get into the room and affect him.

So Milton Erickson comes in to see him, obviously is able to see straight away that there’s, there’s some serious issues going on. What does he do? He gets on his knees, get some newspaper and points out, “Hey, you haven’t plugged the gaps in the floorboards!” And so he starts folding up bits of newspaper and plugging the floorboards. Now you might think that’s as mad as the client that he’s trying to help. Of course, what he was doing was building rapport, shared activity, shared understanding, mirroring, and matching. And once he’d started, once the, the person who was ill could see that this relative stranger was on his wavelength and was, you know, actively involved in a similar shared task. Then of course, they both got on their knees, down on their knees and they both start plugging the holes in the floorboards. And then you have the start of the possibility of a conversation. And I think it’s such an interesting story because if Milton Erickson had done anything other than that, he would have been seen as, you know, somebody outside the client’s experience. He would have been seen as a man in a white coat essentially. And there wouldn’t have been much chance of getting any real communication going.

So that’s all I have to share on the subject of rapport. I’ve kind of given a kind of a potted version of pretty much, most of the topics that I have come across in my study of, of this particular aspect of human behaviour. What about you? What, what, what do you, what’s your experience of it? When does it work? When has it not worked? If you have any comments, do please post them. I haven’t seen any come up and I’m just going to go and check the Facebook group and see if there’s anything there. As I say, I really encourage you to comment just so I know you’re there really, you don’t have to say anything particularly relevant or controversial, but you’re welcome to if you would like to. No, I can’t see any comments there. So I’m going to wish you well.

Next week we will do a, the second installment on this same subject. And I like doing it this way because it gives me a week to reflect on other stories or other aspects of rapport and also for you to ask any questions. So I’d love to hear how you use rapport in your work or even in your family life or in your relationship. Do share your ideas, your thoughts. And if you have any questions, please share them too. In the meantime, I wish you, well, I’ll see you next Tuesday at two o’clock for the second installment on this same topic.

And in the meantime, whatever else you’re doing, don’t forget to keep breathing.

Please let me know what you think by commenting below! Thanks, Alec