Friday, November 16, 2007

Scientists discover the power of rapport

Recently, I have been reading Emotional Intelligence (first published 1995) and Social Intelligence (published 2006) by Daniel Goleman. What I find remarkable is how little they add to what we actually teach in our NLP courses. Take, for instance, this quote from Social Intelligence:

The more two people unconsciously synchronize their movements and mannerisms during their interaction, the more positively they will feel about their encounter - and about each other.

Goleman goes on to say that this doesn't hold true if one person intentionally mimics another. I wonder how long he thinks one can be artificial in matching or mirroring outside the confines of an experiment. I often put rooms of strangers together and watch them go into deep rapport within an evening. They begin with intentional mirroring and within only a few minutes, they are deeply engaged in the natural process that Goleman describes.

A better explanation for the experimental results, given Goleman's celebration of how precisely human beings pick up one another's emotional states, is that people do not react to mirroring (physical rapport) when it does not match other emotional cues. In an experiment, people are accurately reading the state of the confederate which is, quite precisely, the intention to make a physical connection without making a real connection.

In an experiment, it's possible to hold intention stable for the length of the experiment (typically a very short encounter studied intensively). In real life, intention moves and shifts and we adapt to changing intention in ourselves and others. You do not have to wait for new brain technology to tell you the truth about your own experience: you can simply pay attention to what is really happening in your own experience. Notice when you really want to connect with someone. Notice when you want to shift your attention away from that person. Notice that your intention changes the quality of the interchange.

If we think of natural human processes as new territory, recently 'discovered' or 'proven' by scientists and technology, we are at the mercy of what we do naturally. Understanding of how the brain works with other brains will be too rudimentary to lead to 'proven' methods for teaching or improving the way these processes happen in particular situations. It does not allow us to tell someone how to be natural and effective.

There is a better way. We can pay attention to what really works and then replicate it, knowing that what we did once by accident we are likely to be able to do a second time by choice. If there is someone with whom you need to build rapport, don't wait until you are in the right mood. Intend to form a positive connection, then start paying attention to that person with all your resources - the mind that thinks through language and the mind that thinks through your body. Allow yourself to mirror consciously until you have enough information in your own body to allow you to mirror unconscious and naturally.

It's Friday. The weekend is coming. It's a great time for deeper connections. Enjoy them.

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