Counselors: How to Build Natural Rapport with NLP

NLP Rapport CounselorsIf the relationship between a counselor and client is not strong, if rapport is not established, effective counseling is very unlikely to occur.

To that end, NLP offers several strategies. To build natural rapport with clients more quickly, follow the guidelines in this short article.

How to Use NLP to Build Genuine Rapport with Clients

A client’s internal experience, which embraces the mental processes of thinking, remembering, imagining, and perceiving, is processed through three primary representational systems: visual (V), auditory (A), and kinesthetic (K).

Although each of these systems are used by everyone, each individual has a preference for one, typically.

Rapport in Review

• Visual people tend to process information quickly, talk quickly, speak in a higher pitch, use numerous hand gestures, and are less distracted by noise.

• Auditory people tend to do things more rhythmically. They talk to themselves, breathe from the middle of their chest, use some hand gestures, and are distracted by noise.

• Kinesthetic people tend to breathe from the bottom of their lungs; process thoughts more slowly, speak more slowly, and employ long pauses between statements as they process things.

The NLP basis for rapport is similarity. People trust and like others who are like them. The NLP concepts of mirroring and matching – naturally pacing how the client communicates – can enhance the connection.

You can build better natural rapport by matching and mirroring:

• Modality – as we discussed in terms of V, A, and K
• Physiology – using similar hand gestures, facial expressions, and eye blinking rates
• Voice and language – matching the client’s tone, volume, and tempo
• Breathing – from the same location in the chest as the client
• Chunk size – speaking in specific details or talking about the bigger picture as the client does
• Common experience – matching similar hobbies, backgrounds, or beliefs

A common concern about pacing clients is that it is unethical. Do you believe it is unethical to pace your clients and intentionally communicate to build rapport and trust? I hope not.

How it Can Work: The Case of Jennifer

Jennifer comes for counseling because none of her other counselors (and there have been many) understand her problems. She doesn’t really think you can help her, but a friend admired your approach and wouldn’t take no for an answer – even paid for the first session. So, Jennifer acquiesced; however, it is apparent that she doesn’t want to be there and has no confidence in your abilities.

The first step is to attempt build a positive relationship with Jennifer. You might begin by telling her not to trust you, but to let you earn her trust. This paces Jennifer’s experience – and it is good advice for anyone.

As you chat, include questions like:

a) What were the pros and cons of the other therapists?
b) What would be her goals for therapy if she were to work with you?
c) What could each of you do to make this counseling experience more successful than the others?

While talking, listen for predicate phrases or the words she uses that reveal her preferred system. Then use similar words when talking with her. For example:

• Visual predicate phrases include words like looks, appears, and see
• Auditory predicate phrases include words like harmonious, click, and clear as a bell
• Kinesthetic predicate phrases include words like feel, touch, or ton of bricks

You can also watch her eye movements to confirm the primary system, which is the topic of another article. Either way, you want to be talking the same language as the client. If you remain ignorant of your client’s preferred way of communicating, you have less chance of connecting her.

For example, if you determined that Jennifer was a visual person, then, your questions would include visual terms such as:

In hindsight, what would you have liked other therapists to do?
From your perspective, did it seem the other therapists were uncaring?
What is your vision of the ideal therapist?

You have now matched Jennifer’s modality. In addition, you note she talks very fast; so, you will want to talk at a similar rate so Jennifer can track you naturally.

You will know that rapport is established through:

• Calibration – by watching how she reacts to you and what you are saying. When necessary change your communication accordingly.

• Pacing and leading – when Jennifer is speaking very quickly, do the same to begin with, then slow down your rate of speech. When she follows your lead by slowing down herself, you know that rapport is well established.

Now that you have established an initial, genuine rapport in the relationship, you can begin to work on Jennifer’s goals. For more information regarding these and other strategies that you can learn online, visit the NLP Training page.

Hope Bundrant
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