No time to mime
I hate mimes. There, I've said it. I am hesitant to stroll down the Boulder mall for fear of being stalked by a busker in white face paint and tight black and white clothing. Even as an actor, a mime always seemed like a distant third cousin. A cousin who sat in the corner at family gatherings pretending to be stuck in a box. When as a seller I was introduced to NLP, or Neuro-Linguistics Programming, all of those old fears came rushing back to me.
If you've done any sales or business communication training you've probably been exposed to techniques that claim to create instant rapport by "miming" your prospect. Two popular NLP techniques are mirroring and matching. Mirroring involves copying your prospect's exact body language, expressions, gestures and even the words he uses. If he crosses his left leg, you cross your right leg. If he uses words like "paradigm" and "strategize," you find a way to work these into your conversation. Matching goes so far as to suggest aligning your breathing, vocal cadence and tone with the other person. If he speaks slowly, you slow down. If he breathes shallowly, so do you. This is the equivalent of miming in sales -minus the white face paint.
There's no arguing the need to quickly establish rapport in sales. It is the building block upon which relationships grow and flourish. Rapport is something that happens instinctively when we make a new friend. We get that instant "click." We listen fully and enthusiastically. We are interested in every facet of this person, not just the ones that can benefit us. We identify with common experiences and empathize with uncommon ones. So why do our natural tendencies so often get contorted when thrust into a business environment?
Suddenly our attempt to build rapport becomes an intellectual exercise, as if we were dealing with a machine instead of a person. Certainly a systematic approach to creating instant relationships, as promised in NLP and other techniques like it, is appealing.
NLP was developed in the seventies by a mathematician and a linguistics professor and made famous by Tony Robbins. It is based on the premise that "people like people who are like us." Hard to dispute, but while there are many valuable things to be learned from NLP, a mathematician would not be my first choice for advice on how to build a successful relationship!
Matching and mirroring have always struck me as grown-up versions of copy cat. The following cautionary warning usually accompanies instructions on their use: Make sure the other person doesn't notice you're doing it. If rapport is the building block of a relationship, do we really want to start off on the wobbly ground of misrepresentation? Can tricking someone into thinking we are "just like them" create an honest, mutually beneficial working relationship? I don't think so, and I believe prospects and clients are much smarter than these techniques give them credit for.
Authentic rapport is based on a real desire to get to know another person. Seeking out ways to identify and empathize with their circumstances, not turning our self inside out to appear similar. Authentic rapport requires fully engaged listening. Listening with our ears when they're talking and listening with our eyes when we're talking. Authentic rapport requires courage. Courage to open up and allow the prospect the opportunity to get to know who we really are. If we can't be real with them, how can we expect a prospect to be truthful with us?
There are no shortcuts to building authentic rapport and in the end, you can't "click" with everyone, however wouldn't you prefer to work with someone who is authentic and empathetic as opposed to Marcel Marceau? Focus on building honest relationships and the results will speak for themselves. Leave the miming for the mall.