You already know how to get in synch with someone by mirroring their unconscious behavior … their posture, the way they use their hands, even the tilt of their head.

We can also increase rapport by matching some elements of how they sound.

Subtlety is critical here; to get on your client’s wavelength, you’ll want to avoid a copy-cat approach. If your client or colleague thinks you’re mocking them, it’ll ruin your chances of gaining unconscious rapport.

There are several elements of vocal sound that you can match or approximate.

  • Pace – how quickly do they speak? How much do they pause between thoughts?
  • Volume – how loudly does the person speak?>
  • Pitch or inflection – is their voice higher or lower, and how does it shift as they speak?
  • Oomph (that’s a technical term) – how strong or forceful is the person’s speech?

So if you want to develop rapport with someone who speaks quickly and loudly, you would speak more quickly and loudly than you otherwise might, to match them and establish rapport. Your voice need not be exactly equal on a decibel meter. But if they have a big booming voice, you speak louder than you normally do.

If your conversational partner is speaking v-e-r-r-r-y s-l-o-o-o-w-l-y and you talk reallyreallyreallyfast the mismatch is likely to make them feel that the two of you are not on the same page. So you’ll adjust the rate at which you speak to come closer to their natural pace.

Some of us really punch out the words when we talk; we sound emphatic. We may even seem overly emphatic to those whose natural speech pattern is more restrained. People with an analytical communication style, in particular, tend to use less vocal variety.

So to the extent that you want rapport with someone whose voice is more or less expressive than yours, you may want to crank it up and put more energy into your speech … or rein it in a bit to match someone with a narrower bandwidth.

Matching Key Words

It’s not just tone of voice. You can also match some of the person’s specific language to help them be more comfortable with what you’re saying. More receptive to your suggestions.

Early in my radio career I answered a blind ad in Broadcasting Magazine. I had an interview with the news director – over the phone. And found myself with a brand new job in Jackson, Mississippi.

I piled my belongings into my Chevrolet Vega (like I said, it was early in my career) and headed down I-55. After a lifetime in the Midwest, it was quite a change. I hadn’t been in the state more than an hour when the first person said to me, “You ain’t from around here, are ya?”

Of course I adjusted. It wasn’t too long after I landed at WRBC (owned by the Rebel Broadcasting Company!) when I was anchoring the news. And introducing the day’s big story.

The State Supreme Court had just handed down its ruling, I announced. “WRBC’s Stan Case is there … and we’re fixin’ to have a live report.”

It’s a good thing Stan started talking, because I couldn’t have said another word. I shocked myself into silence when “fixin’ to” came out of my mouth … on the air!

It’s a perfect example of how we mirror other people’s speech patterns, often without conscious intent.

As I acclimated to my new home, I naturally picked up Miss’ippi-isms. You hear the same thing among groups of friends. Or colleagues. Certain words or phrases become part of their tribal language.

And because that’s a natural phenomenon when people are in rapport, we can be intentional about saying it their way to signal that we’re all on the same team.

When you want a person feel at ease with you, try using some of their own words. Not synonyms or words that are kind of close to what they said. But use the exact language they use. And notice what happens when you’re on the same wavelength.

Tell us in your own words what happens when they see what you say, hear what you mean and grasp your point.