Pragmatic advice for coaches, managers & leaders

How to build great rapport for even better coaching results

The next time you feel that you are in a state of rapport with someone, take a look at whether you are physically in similar postures, seating angles, lean of body, crossing of legs etc. If you notice that there is similarity between you and your coachee, then you are probably in a temporary state, referred to as either “matching” or “mirroring” each other.


The terms are often used interchangeably but there is a subtle but possibly only technical difference between the two:


If you were to mirror someone (by design) when they crossed right leg over left, you would play their mirror and thus, cross left your leg over right.


If you were to match the same person in the same situation as above, then as they cross their left leg over their right, you would do the same.


When these states occur naturally, they can be an incredibly powerful indicator that a state of rapport exists between the parties involved. The similarity being a sign of the two of you being “in sync”. When rapport exists there is usually a sense of relaxed comfort in each other’s company, albeit possibly a sub-conscious sense. Trust is usually high when rapport is strong and when trust is high, the coaching relationship is usually very productive.


It is possible to mirror and match physicality (body language) tone of voice, tempo of speech, modulation and even phraseology.


As a coach, it is possible to consciously adapt yourself to be more similar to the coachee, in order to foster rapport, but it comes with this word of caution:


Don’t get caught !


If you do try to match in a clumsy and obvious way, you may well actually end up in a significantly worse situation than you would have been had you not tried to manage the situation at all. Practise the skill by doing so in small steps first and with people where your relationship is already very strong … just in case it gets a bit ugly !!


Here are some tips that should help develop rapport effectively through matching and mirroring:


  • make subtle, small and infrequent changes to posture, tone etc – this way any adjustments you do make are unlikely to draw too much attention to the changes you have made.
  • avoid trying to replicate exactly too often throughout the coaching discussion – you can match exactly, just don’t do that all the time!
  • resist the opportunity to move every time your coachee does – stillness is an art and aids focus and the ability to pay great attention. If you are moving constantly, you can’t be paying attention so fully.
  • monitor the response of your coachee to the adjustments you make. If you get even the slightest sense that the are conscious of your “matching” – stop.


Photo thanks: Lollyknit


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