You Got The Meeting, Now What? Mirror and Match.

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You Got The Meeting, Now What? Mirror and Match.

Rapport is power.

There are people  out there you want to influence.  They themselves are influencers.  And if you are successful, that impact will ripple into the world, multiplying your ability to make a difference — in your home, neighborhood, place of worship, business, or city.

They know people, they know what’s happening, they know where resources are.  But they won’t listen to you, help you… unless you listen to them, and are interested in helping them.  So stop trying to be interest-ING… and start trying to be interest-ED.

Seek first to understand their needs and concerns.

They may simply be family, friends, or co-workers who you must spend time with… and you’d prefer to end all the arguing, getting angry, or completing turning off that part of you which cares deeply about these issues — your true self.

Learning how to generate rapport is a key skill you can learn.  And you should.


What Happens

Sometimes you care so much that it gets in the way of what you actually want.  You attack people… you tell them they’re wrong… or you come out of left field talking about something they aren’t already familiar with…  I know I still do.  It’s hard when you care.

And they shut down.  Period.

They defend.  They want to be right.  They tune you out… because they didn’t ask for a lecture or a science lesson.

But that doesn’t mean that they WON’T ask… You just have to know how to generate rapport — which leads to interest in what you have to share.

Rapport = receptivity.  Jot that down.

Attack, does not = receptivity.  Let’s begin.

Getting Rapport

On a road trip to SE Iowa to see my parents and brother, I grabbed a book on CD (as usual) and it was Tony Robbins’ Unleash the Power Within.  He shared what so many great environmental influencers have shared.  And his major question was this:

How do you get rapport… with just about anybody… in the shortest period of time… in the most fulfilling way?

The obvious way to start with is really caring.  There is no faking sincerity.  But there are some skill sets also that will cause people to feel connected to you in a matter of minutes and also cause you to feel connected to other people who maybe normally you wouldn’t have felt that way with.

~ Tony Robbins (2012)

One distinction is that questions do not generate rapport.  They are tools you use to dig in order to find what will generate rapport.

Something in common.

But questions only give you tidbits of information about a person.  You may have to ask a tiring quantity of questions to find “information” that you have in common.

  • Where are you from?  Farm, suburbs, city.
  • What do you do?  Job, sports, hobbies, volunteering.
  • Who do you know?  Family, friends, business networks.
  • What do you like?  Pop culture, sub culture, counter culture.

Asking all these questions can feel like an interview… and create an awkward energy.  Words don’t always work.

What does always work?

What are better tools you can use to build rapport more quickly… and in a meaningful way?

What does everyone have in common?

A physical body and dominant modes of communication.

Matching & Mirroring

Milton Erikson was a world-renowned hypnotherapist in the 60’s and 70’s… obsessed with the power of the unconscious mind.  He was famous for getting results when years of other treatments and thousands of dollars did not work.

His secret?  Matching and mirroring his patients to immediately build rapport.  Specifically, aspects of their voice (tone, speed, pitch) and body (positioning).

People take in information with our five senses.  So, we have major styles of learning and communication.

  1. Visual — eyes/seeing
  2. Auditory — ears/hearing
  3. Kinesthetic — skin/touch
  4. Olfactory — nose/smell
  5. Gustatory — mouth/taste

These are literally hard-wired into the nervous system.  And people have strong suits.

Strong suits are how people share and listen BEST.  Sure, they can use all 5… but they have a preference.

Rapport is all about preference.

Only 3 of these are ALWAYS helpful — visual, auditory, kinesthetic — sight, sound, touch.

So let’s focus on what we can see, hear, and touch.

Please, no sniffing or licking people on your first interaction!

The easy cues to read and mirror/match are body language.

  • Are they sitting or standing?
  • Leaning forward or back?
  • Arms or legs crossed?
  • Standing close or at a comfortable distance?
  • Strong eye contact?

Communication styles are a bit more intuitive.


Visual learners, or  people in a really visual state at the time, are usually:

  • Talking a little louder, faster, and intense
  • Gesturing with their hands to help construct an image
  • Saying things like, “look at this, can you see, let me show you”

To create rapport, it’s all about WHAT you are saying/showing and the IMAGE it creates.

Travis Langen is a visionary, and my director at the Catalina Environmental Leadership Program ( for 2 years.  He would lead us out to the garden area during staff training and begin his sessions.  It never failed.  The man could not stay in one place.  He would reference a the nursery in the distance… then shout, “You need to see this!  Follow me.”  He would begin marching around the garden, pointing at things, waving his arms in grand gestures, and speaking rapidly with loud excitement.  When he discussed his vision for a rehab project, out came his tattered sketch book.  He would huddle us all around to see the beautiful drawing, then just as quickly be up pacing in circles drawing a map of the new design with his steps.  It was hilarious!  And incredibly effective for the staff who were visual learners, like myself.

When I wanted to develop a new program to teach students about how some new, passionate companies were adopting sustainability practices… Travis was skeptical.  So, I turned it into a flash card game with images of products kids could see and recognize on the front, and a brief description on the back of what cool innovation was used to make it — and how it was better for the environment.  Then, I was energetic and excited when I presented it to him — gesturing to really show him what a lesson would look like in action.  Approved.




Auditory learners, or people in a really auditory state at the time, tend to be:

  • Talking a little slower, with a calm, smooth rhythm
  • Gesturing slowly in rhythm with their voice, not to paint a picture
  • Saying things like, “listen, I hear you, that clicks for me”

To create rapport, it’s all about HOW you are talking and the CLARITY it provides.

My senior vice president this year requested brief one-page summaries of our big sustainability goals and vision for the future.  She needed it for our annual strategic planning session.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  She had images, descriptions, spreadsheets, etc.  And I finally realized that the most value we got out of our interactions was always in our monthly one-on-ones.  She would just listen and talk and discuss.  Questions and answer.  Rarely anything more.  And I always left feeling like we had made real headway in understanding each other.

So, I bought some inexpensive software and build 3 short and simple videos — one for each big goal in our vision.  Nothing flashy.  And I used a calm, nicely paced voice-over for each one that walked through the basics.  I was worried what she would think.  She loved it!  She said, “These were great.  I felt like I really understood them, compared to the one-pagers.  These are just what we need.”  Success.



Kinesthetic learners, or people in a really kinesthetic state at the time, will be:

  • Talking less, usually quiet, and showing more
  • Grabbing for things to demonstrate their point
  • Saying things like,”I need a more concrete example, it doesn’t feel right, I need a better sense of it”

To create rapport, it’s all about DOING something to model what you’re sharing.

My direct supervisor is possibly my favorite boss ever.  He’s an engineer who has field experience, management experience, and sales experience.  He is a “feeler.”  Every week in our one-on-ones, we talk about travel plans.  He grabs his computer monitor, pushes is around so I can see it, opens up GoogleMaps, and starts pointing and dragging all over the place.  When we discuss ideas, he sits back and ponders what I’m sharing.  He’s slow to answer and always with a quiet thoughtfulness.  Often, he grins and grabs a pen and one-sided paper from his bin, scratching out a simple diagram of what he thinks we should be doing.  And he’s quick to a firm handshake or a pat on the back.

So, when I wanted to try a new LED light for a flag pole application… first, I brought in a sample.  Then I crunched the numbers, adding graphs and pie charts he could red-line.  Then we hopped in the car and visited a store.  Some of his best advice was to “let people see and touch what it is you  want them to adopt.”  At our store, I had our vendor install the new LED lights next to the metal halide version with a toggle switch.  We drove out at night and stood back as the switch toggled back and forth between the two lighting options.

The key difference between this and visual is action.  A visual learner might be happy seeing a photo of the lighting installed.  A kinesthetic learning would need to go see it/touch it for themselves.  A visual learner also tends to be a louder/faster talker.




Finally, Types of Sources

My favorite little secret is this.  And it’s so easy.

Pay attention!  Not just to how people share… but what sources do they use?

If someone sends you a scientific article from a right-wing major news site… don’t send them an editorial blog post from an obscure left-wing blog.  No receptivity.

Do some research.  Work hard at it.  Invest some time and forethought.

The BEST response would be a “Thank you for this article” and find at least one thing you agree with… to show that you at least read the thing.  THEN…

Send back an article by the exact same author contradicting themselves in the past or adding a more accurate viewpoint to what may have been cherry-picked out of context.

That’s not always possible, but you get the point…

  • Video, magazine, newspaper, link to a website?  Send the same.
  • Look for a similar author, newsite, geographic region… something!

People are constantly showing you what they desperately seek in return.  If you are thoughtful enough to pay attention, they are handing you your winning game plan on a silver platter.  Care enough to take note.


Some people say, well isn’t this being phony?!

No, it’s being respectful.

If you go to another country, and you don’t at least attempt to speak the language… you are viewed as arrogant.  You focus only on what you need and want.

Well, different learning styles — communication styles — are as different as another country.  If you notice how someone prefers to learn and share, and you actually care about them… it’s respectful to at least try to mirror and match their preference.

And, it’s incredibly more effective at building rapport.



Adam Hammes is the executive director of the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum, a consultant, author, and motivational speaker. He specializes in helping businesses and sustainability professionals with environmental and social performance.

Check out Adam's new book on Amazon, Audible and Kindle: Sustainable Business in Iowa.

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