The Dog and Rapport


Only last week, sometime in the evening, I was mildly upset about some inconsequential thing. I thought I was hiding it to everyone and it would pass unnoticed.
My little black dog, even though she has a chronic hip condition, immediately came to me, tail wagging furiously, with a conciliatory look all over her swinging body, and climbed halfway onto my lap. She knew. And she wanted me not to, doing what instinct was telling her to do to fix things.

Rapport, in coaching terms, is the connection between two or more people. It’s that ability to pick up on the subtext, the fine body language, the nuances of facial expression, tone of voice, breathing pattern, and who knows what else. And you’ve heard, haven’t you, about the experiments that confirmed that most communication between people is nonverbal? Obviously, better rapport leads to better communication.

So, here’s the thing. If we understand rapport, we become better communicators, effective therapists and coaches, more productive business and sales people, better parents, friends and spouses, and just as importantly, kinder to ourselves.
How then, to improve our capacity to create rapport?

My little black dog taught me the lesson of embracing instinct, which in humans is intuition.
Dogs, like humans, are pack animals, social creatures. Their and our success as a species is closely linked to the ability to sense what the others in the pack are feeling and thinking and doing, and to respond appropriately. Unity and cohesiveness, working toward a common goal, is the difference between survival and extinction.

Some schools will teach that rapport is all about thinking and strategy. Like the old fashioned notion of matching and mirroring, where you would try to adopt the mannerisms and expressions of another person, subtly trying to mimic yourself into their attention. Or cognitively working out what that other person or people want, what their angle is, and cleverly work that into your own words and expressions. Maybe this approach works sometimes, probably often it doesn’t at all.

Here’s what modern science is teaching us: our minds are wired for rapport. It’s intuition, birthright, natural ability. I’ll add this piece to that: the harder we try to out-think it, the clumsier it becomes.
For example, cutting edge neuroscience is teaching us about mirror neurons. When you yawn, or experience an emotion, or do some action, a set of neurons, or brain cells, are firing in your brain. Like magic, or just evolution, unconsciously, when I sense this in you, the same set of neurons fire in my brain!
This mutual triggering is happening on multiple levels and between multiple people every millisecond in hundreds if not thousands of ways. As social creatures, pack animals, we’ve developed this remarkable capability. There’s no way we can process this through thought, it’s intuitive, isn’t it?

So to get better at rapport, perhaps we require less thinking, and more being.

Nice, you may be thinking (while your mirror neurons spark all over the place), but so what? How do I do that? If it’s natural, where’s the skill to learn? Do you either just have it, or not?
Of course it’s a skill. Of course it can be taught and learnt. It’s just a skill of doing less, and allowing more. And I’ll show you one of the ways to practise and experience it.

Imagine, right now, and later actually practice it for real, sitting across from someone, or in a group of people. Without needing to close your eyes or look away, allow your gaze to shift not to the actual person, but to the space immediately around him or her. Notice what happens. As if this isn’t spacey enough, let your focus expand to the area of nothingness between you and the others. Yes, that’s right, focus lightly on that openness in the space in between. Allow your perception to expand into that interconnected space. And let your intuition do the rest.

Now, what’s different? How has your perception changed? Now you know what I mean, don’t you, about true rapport? With practice, you might just find how much better you’ve become at connecting with people.

Read more about OPEN AWARENESS.

And this is something which my little black dog knew all along.


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