Colour-wise my jumper is matching with this typical Dutch windmill. The two of us are in perfect harmony. This principle of matching in order to create a feeling of harmony can be used in communication as well. It is a great tool in many interactions, both inside and outside the classroom.
Look how well the colour of my jacket matches with the stripes of my top.
Harmony helps communication
Let me start by telling you why harmony is important in interactions. That is because people like people that are like them. A great example is a group of teenage girlfriends: they dress the same, talk the same, use the same vocabulary and borrow each other’s make-up. This state of harmony makes it obvious to them and others that they like each other.
Harmony between people is a signal that our minds pick up, consciously or unconsciously. You can imagine that this feeling of harmony makes people feel connected and as a result their communication flows more easily. People who feel connected are bound to understand and appreciate each other more and they will also be more open for each other’s opinions and ideas.
Matching to create rapport
Often this state of harmony just happens, people feel comfortable in each other’s company and communication flows naturally. On other occasions we may need to work on creating this state of harmony, also called rapport.
Rapport is a feeling of being in-sync with someone else, of being on the same wavelength.
Communication is built up of words (7%), tonality (38%) and body language (55%). A good way of creating rapport is ‘matching’ your words, tonality or body language (or a combination of these three) with the ones used by your communication partner. That way you are like the other person and he or she will like you more.
All of us often use words to find out what the similarities are between us and the other person. We ask questions about hobbies, nationality, favourite food, choice of clothes and so on to find common ground. We do this because we are consciously or unconsciously looking for a state of harmony.
I do this a lot in my classes. I make sure I learn what is important to my pupils and I actively show my interest in what matters to them. You will understand that this way of creating rapport can take some time, which is fine when you are dealing with a class. But how about being in a restaurant with people you do not know yet? How do you create rapport then? Well, for this kind of situations there is a fast track and that is: matching words!
You can choose to listen for words that the other person uses in his or her conversation. Some people use ‘cool’, others ‘great’ or ‘awesome’ to describe something positive. When your conversation partner uses ‘cool’ and you use ‘great’ you will have less rapport than when you match your words with the ones used by the other person (‘cool’ and ‘cool’). As a teacher you have to be cautious of course, since not all language used by your pupils is to be repeated by you!
In class I regularly make my pupils shout, whisper or speak with a deep, high or funny voice in the foreign language I teach. Because we do these vocal varieties together, we do not only work on pronunciation, but we also create rapport. Our tonalities match perfectly!
This applies for other conversation partners as well. You should not mimic the other person’s tonality, but you can slightly adapt your voice to create a better match. The other person will get that feeling of connection and harmony and that works well for the communication between the two of you.
Matching body language
All types of moving activities also work well to create rapport with and within your class. Pantomime games, short moving breaks, dances and clapping rhythms all make sure the kids match their movements, thus creating rapport.
In a one to one communication you can adapt your own body language to the one of your conversational partner, such as standing or sitting a bit more like the other one does or by slightly tilting your head in the same way. The other person will unconsciously pick up these signals of harmony and thus will like you more.
Set for subtilty
Sometimes you can match too much and that just does not work so well!
So, in classroom situations and in a one to one communication you can create rapport by matching your vocabulary, your tonality and/or your body language with those of the other person(s). Matching will help creating that feeling of harmony, which leads to better communication. You must do this in a subtle way of course, otherwise it will only be counterproductive!
I know that this may sound like an artificial thing to do. At least, that is how I felt about it at first. It does work though and is pretty easy to learn.
Why don’t you start using ‘matching’ and feel for yourself what it does for your communication. I would be happy to read about your experiences. Please share them here!