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Rapport is a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned are “in sync” with each other, understand each other's feelings or ideas, and communicate smoothly.
The word stems from the old French verb rapporter which means literally to carry something back; and, in the sense of how people relate to each other means that what one person sends out the other sends back. For example, they may realize that they share similar values, beliefs, knowledge, or behaviors around politics, music or sports. This may also mean that the participants engage in reciprocal behaviors such as posture mirroring or in increased coordination in their verbal and nonverbal interactions.
There are a number of techniques that are supposed to be beneficial in building rapport such as: matching your body language (i.e., posture, gesture, etc.); indicating attentiveness through maintaining eye contact; and matching breathing rhythm. In conversation, some verbal behaviors associated with increased rapport are the use of positivity (or, positive “face management”), sharing personal information of gradually increasing intimacy (or, “self-disclosure”), and by referring to shared interests or experiences.
Rapport has been shown to have benefits for psychotherapy and medicine, negotiation, and education, among others. In each of these cases, the rapport between members of a dyad (e.g. a teacher and student or doctor and patient) allows the participants to coordinate their actions and establish a mutually beneficial working relationship, or what is often called a “working alliance”.
To achieve the benefits of interpersonal rapport in domains like education, medicine, or even sales, several methods have been shown to build rapport between people. These methods include coordination, showing your attentiveness to the other, building commonality, and managing the other’s self-perception (also called “face” management).
- Emotional mirroring – Empathizing with someone's emotional state by being on 'their side'. You must apply the skill of being a good listener in this situation so as you can listen for key words and problems that arise when speaking with the person. This is so you can talk about these issues and question them to better your understanding of what they are saying and show your empathy towards them (Arnold, E and Boggs, josh. 2007).
- Posture mirroring – Matching the tone of a person's body language not through direct imitation, as this can appear as mockery, but through mirroring the general message of their posture and energy.
- Tone and tempo mirroring – Matching the tone, tempo, inflection, and volume of a person's voice.
Another way of building rapport is by each partner indicating their attentiveness to the other. This attentiveness may take the form of nonverbal attentiveness, such as looking at the other person, nodding at appropriate moments, or physical proximity, as seen in work on teachers’ “immediacy” behaviors in the classroom. This attentiveness might also be demonstrated through reciprocation of nonverbal behaviors like smiling or nodding, similar to the coordination or in the reciprocal sharing of personal details about the other person that signal one’s knowledge and attentiveness to their needs.
Commonality is the technique of deliberately finding something in common with a person or a customer in order to build a sense of camaraderie and trust. This is done through references to shared interests, dislikes, and experiences. By sharing personal details or self-disclosing personal preferences or information, interlocutors can build commonality and thus increase rapport.
Another way of building rapport is through what is often referred to as “positive face management”, but may also simply be called positivity. According to some psychologists, we have a need to be seen in a positive light, known as our “face”. By managing each other’s “face”, boosting it when necessary, or reducing negative impacts to it, we are able to build rapport with others.
Benefits of Rapport
There have been a number of proposed benefits from building interpersonal rapport, which all revolve around smoother interactions, improved collaboration, and improved interpersonal outcomes, though the specifics differ by the domain.
In the medical domain, doctor-patient rapport is often called the “Working Alliance”, and is a measure of the collaboration quality between doctor (or therapist) and patient, often used as a predictor of therapy outcomes or patients’ prescription adherence.
In education, teacher-student rapport is predictive of students’ participation in the course, their course retention, likelihood to take a course in that domain again, and has sometimes been used to predict course outcomes. Some have argued that teacher-student rapport is an essential element of what makes an effective teacher, or the ability to manage interpersonal relationships and build a positive, pro-social, atmosphere of trust and reduced anxiety. Student-student rapport, on the other hand, while largely out of the teacher’s ability to control, is also predictive of reduced anxiety in the course, feelings of a supportive class culture, and improved participation in class discussions.
In negotiation, rapport is beneficial for reaching mutually beneficial outcomes, as partners are more likely to trust each other and be willing to cooperate and reach a positive outcome. However, others have found that interpersonal rapport in negotiation can lead to unethical behavior, particularly in impasse situations, where the interpersonal rapport may influence the negotiators to behave unethically.
To better study how rapport can lead to the above benefits, researchers generally adopt one of three main approaches: self-report surveys given to the participants, third-party observations from a naive observer, and some form of automated computational detection, using computer vision and machine learning.
Self-report surveys typically consist of a set of questions given at the end of the interaction, asking the participants to reflect on their relationship with another person and rate various aspects of that relationship, typically on a Likert scale. Though this is the most common approach, it suffers from unreliability of self-report data, such as the issue of separating participants’ reflection on a single interaction with their relationship with the other person more broadly.
To address these issues, others have used a third-party observer to give a rating of the rapport to a particular segment of the interaction, often called a “slice”. Other recent work uses techniques from computer vision, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to computationally detect the level of rapport between members of a dyad.
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