The neurological levels model is adapted from the original model created by Robert Dilts. The model proposes that the level of neurology involved is greater at the top (identity) than at the bottom (environment). Keep in mind that making a change in your behaviour or environment will not necessarily impact your identity. However, change your identity or values, and you will see massive shifts in the behaviour and results that ensue. Can you see now why so many training courses don’t create the desired results?When you go for a drink with your friends, do you focus on matching and mirroring your body language? Do you study their every movement to make sure you are sitting in the same position, reaching for your drink at the same time and attempting to breathe in time in case your friendship deteriorates and the person sat beside you mistakes you for a stranger?
I hope you can see how ridiculous this situation would be, and yet even without thinking about your physiology and tonality, there exists a level of rapport that continues in spite of whatever else is going on. In fact, if you watch a group of friends, you will see that they do match and mirror their body language and the way they talk with each other. However, this is happening at an unconscious level rather than being something they are aware of. If body language was the only way to be in rapport, what could explain this connection?
The fact is that rapport is a state that occurs naturally between people who have a proper relationship. When you have a real connection with someone, the matching of body movement, tonality and linguistics happens at an unconscious level because the connection exists at a much higher level of awareness.
Sure, we can use matching to help us create a superficial level of rapport, but if you want to develop a proper relationship and connection, you will need to understand what these higher levels of awareness and are how to access them when developing rapport.
Once you have established this advanced rapport, you have a greater amount of flexibility within the relationship. For example, if you have a significant disagreement with a prospect on your first meeting, the chances of turning that situation around for the better is going to be a challenge. However, you can have a shouting match with someone close to you and yet a day later everything is back to normal.
So how are these levels of awareness structured? These are the Neurological Levels that were originally developed by Robert Dilts. In the neurological levels rapport model, Dilts describes the levels of ever-deepening psychological concepts that occur in both conscious and unconscious awareness. If we want to develop rapport at a deeper level, we need to understand how to put this model into action.
Environment can be described as everything from the skin out. One of the easiest things for a sales person to control in their environment is their appearance and how they dress. Are you dressing appropriately for your sales meetings? And by ‘appropriately’, I don’t necessarily mean in a suit and tie.
For example, there is a huge difference between the digital marketing world and the realm of financial services. I remember one of my finance clients being very particular about the type of shirts that had to be worn by the sales people; cotton double cuff shirts with no breast pocket. In the digital marketing world however, for example, you could be overdressed in a nice cardigan and smart T-shirt.
What makes your dress sense ‘acceptable’ is really not down to your role or the company that you work for. Rather it is about the expectations of the person you are meeting, your prospect – how do they want to be made to feel?
Let’s say you are selling financial services products. What’s that first impression that you want to give your potential client? If you are selling mortgages, insurance and pensions, you probably want them to think you are professional, that you are going to take care of their money and that you are an upstanding citizen in good standing. If you turn up in jeans, trainers and a sweaty T-shirt, you are probably not going to convey that impression. You turn up in a nice suit, in a nice shirt and tie, you are probably going to get a lot closer.
If you are meeting with a small business owner to discuss their accounting requirements and you turned up fully suited and booted, is that going to give them the right impression? Sitting at somebody’s kitchen dressed that way talking about their book keeping could cause them to feel that you are may be a little bit superior to them?
So, the case of clothing or the case of appearance comes down to what the expectations of the person you are going to meet and how do you want to make them feel. If you want them to feel that you are somebody who is in control and is formal and is always very precise, then maybe wearing a suit is important. If you want to have slightly softer or relaxed attitude, you want to approach people and you want them to feel comfortable discussing things with you, then maybe you dress that down slightly.
If you are unsure about your current appearance, I can highly recommend visiting an image consultant or a style consultant. I remember seeing one many years ago (some might say I due a repeat visit!) and she worked absolute wonders. We looked at the way I was currently dressing and the message I wanted to convey and created a plan. Once this set of rules was in place, I knew what to wear, the specific cuts and fits that I needed to buy, the colours and even down to the accessories that finished off the look. A very beneficial process.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS COUNT!
Where do you hold your meetings? There is a well known story about James Caan one of the dragons from the BBC show Dragon’s Den who, when he first started in business, wanted to have the appearance of success. He set up a recruitment company and rented a very, very small office in Pall Mall in the centre of London. Clients would come to meet with him at his office, see the location and be suitably impressed. However, because the office was so small, instead of ruining the illusion, instead he would say “we are a little bit busy in the office today, let me take you out for a coffee instead.” In doing so, the clients would meet him at this posh address and have the right first impression but they never actually get to see his office and he could conduct his business off site. The environment gave the initial impression of massive success even though, behind the scenes, that was not necessarily the case.
So, where you hold your meetings and how you dress up is vitally important in creating that first impression, the first feeling that your potential buyer is going to get from you. If you are able to then you need to be in control of your environment. It may seem picky, but even down to the temperature of your meeting room and how people feel in that environment. Keep it nice and warm, provide them with water, and provide comfortable chairs. Think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If basic physiological needs are not catered for, your sales pitch will not be first thing on your prospect’s mind.
The behaviour level of the neurological levels model is where you find matching and mirroring of body language and physiology that we have already covered. We can match elements of Physiology, Tonality or Words to help develop rapport with our prospects. Remember, a common misconception is that you have to match and mirror at exactly the same time as your prospect is moving. Whilst there is some strong evidence to support the matching and mirroring concept, I am also going to suggest to you that when you see a group of friends, the body language matching may actually be a result of the rapport rather than the cause.
Let’s imagine for a moment that we go to a social engagement. We head out to a bar with a group of friends and as we all sit around the table, there is an element of synchronicity. When I reach for drink, a friend of mine reaches for drink; when I put it back, they put it back; I sit forwards, a few minutes later all of us will sit forward. There is always one guy who sat back and is always in a different position (mis-matcher). We will come back to him later when we discuss meta-programs, but things tend to synchronise if you are in a group of friends. Now, you are not matching and mirroring to create rapport. Instead, these movements are a by-product or symptom of the rapport you and your friends already have at a higher level. We will explore these throughout the rest of the neurological levels concepts.
This is where normal rapport lessons finish. However, something tells me you want to learn the juicy stuff of how to develop unbreakable rapport with people you have never even met! If so, read on.
CAPABILITIES AND SKILLS
If you have a unique talent and you meet someone else with the same skill, there will be an element of rapport. Let’s take, for example, unicyclists. One Christmas period as I was walking amidst the throngs of festive shoppers, three unicyclists went past me on the street. Now normally when you have groups of people engaging in the same activity, there is some element that is similar about them from an outside perspective. You may expect them to look similar, dress in the same sort of clothes or be of similar ages.
However, here were three people, all of whom had the skill of being able to unicycle, but all of them were completely different individuals. There was an older guy, there was a middle-aged guy, and then there was a younger guy too. They were all dressed completely differently.
The one element they definitely shared was that they all enjoyed to and had the ability to unicycle. People with skills in common tend to hang out together, either when learning the particular skill or once they have mastered it. If you go to a training course, often times there is a lot of rapport that’s built instantly whether or not an icebreaker is done at the beginning with the group.
Therefore, people with similar skills and capabilities will tend to be able to develop rapport even if there is mismatching at more superficial levels.
Your unique view of the world may allow you to create connections and develop rapport with the people you meet. For beliefs level rapport, the classic example is going to a church or any other religious environment.
If you have been to a church recently, there are stages of a church. Walking in at the back, you first have those kids who go to church but necessarily don’t want to be there. Potentially their parents have dragged them there and they are only going to hang out at the back trying not to cause too much trouble. They are still kind of engaging to some extent and they will sing their hymns under their breaths, they don’t want to appear uncool. If you move forward slightly, you will find a young couple. Maybe they have been dating for a while or maybe they are newlyweds. They have been involved in the church for some time and they still want to show up, but maybe they can’t show up every weekend. Move forward some more and you see the big family, the parents and the children they are all dressed in their Sunday best because this is their day of the week where they get to bond and they get to come together under their belief of religion. And at the very front of the congregation you have the old people. For them, it is either their time to really start believing in religion and it’s almost like a negotiation session – “Do I get this? Do I get that? Okay, great, this is the religion for me.” Alternatively, they have been going to church their whole life and have graduated from the back of the church all the way to that front pew.
If you get to the front of the room and you turn around what you see is a whole raft of different people that look very different; different skin tones, different creeds, different languages being spoken. They are all sat slightly differently – some have sat forward, some have sat back. They are dressed in an assortment of outfits and their appearances are all very different. What brings all of these people together is their belief – their beliefs about religion and spirituality. So, at any point they can have a conversation and there would be no need to match and mirror body language. It would just be a natural conversation because they have this thing in common.
So, if you have beliefs that are similar to that of your prospect, you should try to uncover them. I can remember being in a sales situation once in a very small car service garage in Birmingham. The meeting was not going well. We had been made to wait for ages and the meeting kept getting interrupted and it got to a point where the husband had to leave the meeting. We couldn’t really continue at that point so we made some small talk and were looking the small reception area and on the desk of this office was a flyer for a local church. The sales person I was with picked it up and said “My mom goes to that church” and I have never seen a U-turn in a meeting happen quite like this. The eyes of the woman lit up and for the next 20 minutes, all she could talk about was her church, her church, her church. Her husband came in after about 10 minutes and they actually stood together with their arms around them, each other talking about their passions and their beliefs of the church and invited both of us. I didn’t live in the area, so I couldn’t attend but this girl said that she had been to the church many a times and that her mom was still a regular. After that we got back into the sales conversation, the meeting went very differently with the sale being made at the end of it. There was a different level of rapport. In that short exchange we moved from the relationship from sales person and prospect to a connection of people who have similar beliefs resulting in a far deeper level of rapport.
The way to figure out somebody’s values is to ask them what is important to them. “What is important to you about life?” For example, would give you someone’s core values that drive their life. Another way to do it is to look at the activities that somebody engages on a regular basis. How people spend their time, money and resources will give you a very good reflection of what is important to them in the given context and if you can get into a values level rapport with a prospect, this is probably the deepest level of rapport that you can get on to with somebody as a sales person.
For example, let’s say we visit someone’s office and we can see that they engage in sailing on a regular occasion. I remember sitting in a sales meeting at the start of my sales career where the MD had pictures of his boat all over his office. It didn’t take a genius to realise he was a keen sailor. However, what I didn’t know was the values that sailing fulfilled for him.
“What is it about sailing that you like?”
“What do you get out of sailing?”
Both of these questions will give you access to his values. You may get a response about how they love being away from everything, they love just the sounds of nature, they love the occasional silence followed by crushing of waves and they just love being outdoors and it’s just being them and the elements.
Old school sales rapport would teach you to find something in common with your prospect and then expand upon it. I have seen experienced sales people trying to build rapport by asking questions about “what do you do?” and after 10 minutes of futile questioning find nothing in common. In the end, they will simply take anything and latch onto it and they will pretend that that’s something that they do in an attempt to create rapport. “You play the violin? I love playing the violin!” for example.
If you understand the values behind why people do what they do, I guarantee that it doesn’t matter what the activity or behaviour, you will be able to create a deep level of rapport.
So, even though I don’t sail (although it is something on my list of things to do), I know that I can use a values level conversation to develop rapport with this prospect based on the fact that I know he likes being outdoors in nature and that it is important to him to be able to get away from everything. You may even find that by talking about how you have similar values, you start bouncing ideas about of other ways to meet this value at even greater levels. (Just be sure you can maintain this rapport when you start moving into the more sales related aspect of your meeting!)
This technique is called a values alignment and it allows you to develop a deep rapport by mapping your values over onto someone else’s behaviours. Simply identify your prospect’s values and then tell a related story from your own experience.
So, if this person likes being away in nature and likes just getting out in that boat and just likes being disconnected from it all, I might talk about a camping trip or when I went bear-hunting in Yellowstone Park (I had my camera and no bears were hurt in the making of this book). I might talk about that time when I went somewhere so far away and it was so quiet, all I could hear was the sound of my breathing and even the trees didn’t make a noise.
How many times do we actually get into this level of rapport with someone, to a point where we know what drives them to take action? Instead, we keep the conversation superficial and at a level where you are not likely to offend anyone. However, you need to develop emotion during a sale, and values are the ultimate emotions people are looking to experience.
Develop a values-level rapport with someone and the superficial aspects of appearance and body language fade into insignificance.
Identity level rapport is the highest level of rapport that you can possibly get into. This is where you see yourself as being part of the same object or part of the same metaphor. A classic example is in the 2006 European Football Championships, Christiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney where engaged in the ‘Winkgate’ scandal where Ronaldo winked at Rooney as he was sent off. At that time they were both playing for Manchester United, and there was the question of whether they would ever be able to play again together on the same team after what had happened. Surely there was no way they would be able get into the same level of rapport which you need to have on a team as they would have done before this scandal.
After the tournament and back at Manchester United, training behind closed doors must have been pretty tense, but then the first game of the season took place. The Manchester United team looked incredible, but it was the chemistry between Rooney and Ronaldo that was phenomenal. They instinctively knew where each other was going to be on the pitch. They were just in complete and total rapport despite the scandal.
This was due to their identity. The second they donned the Manchester United shirts, everything else ceased to be important. The only thing that mattered to them was being part of the Manchester United team. There were no differences of opinion, and the ‘Winkgate’ scandal was pushed aside. It simply didn’t matter. What was important was representing their team and getting the result.
Can you imagine this sort of thing happening in a sales meeting and you being able to maintain rapport with a prospect? It would be very difficult unless you too were part of the same team.
As you move higher through the neurological levels, you develop a deeper level of rapport. It then doesn’t matter about everything else that comes below. If you can get into values level rapport or identity level rapport, do you think it matters what clothes you are wearing, whether you cross your legs or your arms or whether you break eye contact? Of course it doesn’t. The deeper the level of rapport, the greater flexibility you have to mismatch at the more superficial levels.