Have you ever noticed that some people seem to connect with others more quickly and easily than you can? These lucky few may have a natural gift or a magnetic personality, or they may have learned the skills to build rapport through practice. Massage practice owners need to develop these skills in order to grow a thriving business.
For most people, some basic competence in building rapport comes naturally. Maybe they are good at listening and putting other people at ease. But most people who are really good at establishing rapport have developed this skill over time with deliberate practice.
These are necessary skills that you must have to build your massage practice. The rapport and trust you build with clients makes them feel comfortable and safe. Even if you struggle with meeting new prospects and clients, it is possible to develop your rapport-building skills.
What is rapport?
Rapport is a harmonious connection or relation that is based on trust and liking. It is necessary for a productive client and massage therapist relationship. When rapport is present between two people, you will find mutual attentiveness, coordination and positivity.
Two people who have rapport are said to be “in sync” with each other. This connection, understanding and trust makes it possible to have empathy for the other person. A therapist-client relationship will be much more productive once mutual trust and understanding has been established.
Rapport is something that is best built through one-on-one, face-to-face interaction. Studying how to build rapport is like learning the art of conversation. And the goal is to build a connection, especially on an unconscious level and emotional level.
The ability to build rapport is a critical skill for developing personal as well as business relationships. Clients prefer to work with people with which they have a good relationship.
Be wary of obstacles to building rapport. This could include things like jealousy, pride, cynicism, self-consciousness, shyness, or your own ego.
Why rapport-building skills are important for a massage therapist
Building rapport and trust go hand in hand. The massage therapist-client relationship is dependent on trust. It grows over time, and is fueled by consistency and reliability.
Rapport building begins the second you meet someone. It is either strengthened or undermined with each encounter after that.
Having strong rapport will increase client loyalty and improve your credibility. Your clients will be more likely to apply your recommendations if there is strong rapport. This is especially important for people who work in health care.
When people like you, the inevitable mistakes are easier to overlook and forgive. People are also more willing to help you and refer their friends to you. Having rapport with someone will open new opportunities that would otherwise not be available.
The skills to build rapport quickly are also useful in personal relationships throughout life. Recent generations that are growing up with most of their interactions taking place on social media may not be getting the opportunities to build these skills to their fullest.
The rapport building skills are especially important for massage therapists who have their own practice. Selling your services to someone and building a client relationship from scratch requires strong interpersonal communication skills and the ability to influence others in a positive way.
For a massage therapist, rapport skills help:
- Interacting with prospects to promote your practice
- Welcoming new clients and setting them at ease
- Nurturing client relations during repeat visits
10 Skills to Practice
Use these techniques only if you genuinely want to connect with someone and add value to his or her life. If you build a clientele of people that you are actually interested in helping, your work will take on a whole new meaning. Be confident in yourself and your abilities.
Focus on your prospect
When speaking with someone, make them feel important Focus on and listen to the person in front of you. Avoid looking at your watch, phone, or letting yourself get distracted. Put his or her needs ahead of your own during this interaction.
Remember their name and use it a few times in each interaction. Remember, clients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Follow through with your promises to build credibility. This could include sending them a brochure or following up with an email if you say you’re going to.
Put them (and yourself) at ease
Your own mindset and expectations will impact how you engage someone. Even if you’re trying to promote your practice, when you first meet someone, you’re not focused on selling anything. So relax and smile. See if this person is even right for your practice.
Not everyone believes the same things when it comes to health or massage. Avoid getting defensive or confrontational if someone says they are not interested in learning about their chakras. Be respectful of differences in beliefs.
Some clients will get annoyed by someone claiming to see that their energy is out of balance. If your practice focuses on energy work, then these people aren’t part of your target market anyway, and there’s no need to argue about it. But be careful not to drive your target market away with your own beliefs about something that doesn’t need to be brought up.
Use active listening strategies
You will learn more by listening, So listen more than you talk, and avoid interrupting. People like talking about themselves, so let them. Try to actually focus on them instead of thinking about what you’re going to say next. Let people talk and they will open up to you. By listening, you will learn more about them and discover opportunities and better ways to serve your clients.
Repeat things back to them to show understanding. Ask follow-up questions to clarify what they tell you and to show that you are interested in what they say. Open-ended questions will stimulate conversation better. Preferably ask ones that make him or her reflect for a moment.
“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” –Ernest Hemingway
Find similarities to build rapport
Finding commonality makes it easier to have empathy. The more you have in common with your prospect the easier it will be to build rapport. Appearances matter. When promoting your practice, wear clothing that is appropriate for the situation, and is a similar fashion as your prospect or audience.
Everyone has something interesting about them if you dig deep enough. Be genuinely interested in their wellbeing.
Tone, rate of speech (or tempo), inflection, etc. has a greater impact than actual word choice. Match their rate of speech and style. It may sound strange, but people really do prefer to talk with people like themselves. If it is someone we care about, we do this naturally.
Think about how you would speak to a friend who just got some bad news. In an effort to show compassion you would automatically change how you talk to show empathy. You would probably soften your tone and speak a little slower, which can have a calming effect. On the other hand, if your friend just got great news, your vocal qualities would change to show shared excitement for his or her good fortune.
Don’t try to fake an accent though. That just comes off as being phony. I can think of a few politicians who tried that and just ended up looking foolish and alienating people.
Build a connection and rapport with your prospect, client, or audience by selecting words that are part of their vernacular, i.e. customary and meaningful to them. For example, a potential client who is a competitive athlete would be compelled by a different statement than a sports physician that you would like to get referrals from.
For example, here’s a similar statement but to two different groups. Both statements are accurate, but they appeal to different people:
- (To referring physicians): Therapeutic massage has been shown to speed tissue healing time by increasing localized circulation. It also decreases pain through stimulation of endogenous opioid production and by the gate control theory. Massage therapy is a low-risk treatment option that can be an effective complementary treatment to improve your patients’ outcomes as well as increase patient satisfaction.
- (To the athlete/client): Sports massage is designed to speed recovery and get you back in the game sooner. It feels good and many top athletes incorporate massage therapy into their training program.
Nonverbal communication carries a big influence when it comes to liking and attitude.
Publications by a UCLA psychology professor Albert Mehrabian suggested that the words we choose to use only account for about 7% of interpersonal communication. He went on to report that tone accounts for 38% and body language accounts for 55%. This is the 7%-38%-55% Rule.
Regardless of how exact these percentages are, a little reflection into our own experiences will confirm that nonverbal communication plays a big role in how we feel about someone.
In addition to liking and attitude, we use nonverbal communication as a way to verify what we are being told. Try to be receptive to your clients’ nonverbal cues and body language. Nonverbal cues can let you know when people really aren’t interested, and are just being polite.
Be mindful of your position
Our brains are wired to first scan for threats, especially in new situations. Be sure to take a non-threatening position. I knew an excellent physician at a hospital that got several bad reviews during patient surveys. He took his time with his patients, educated them, and was always empathetic and respectful. However he was 6’4” and it turned out that when he stood next to a patient’s bed to talk with them, he unintentionally intimidated some of them. So he started sitting down to be closer to eye-level with patients and this solved the problem.
Another positioning consideration is to respect their personal space. Standing 18 to 48 inches apart is appropriate for most personal communications in the US. Turn slightly to the side is also less aggressive. Think about the saying “standing toe to toe” which refers to a confrontation.
Mirroring and matching
This is a specific strategy that uses nonverbal communication to send a message. It relies on the assumption that people like people like themselves.
The Chameleon Effect, also called unintentional mirroring, occurs naturally when people in rapport interact. It typically includes things like their posture, gestures, facial expressions, rate of speech, etc. Chartrand and Bargh, psychology professors at New York University, published their research on this phenomenon in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1999. They found that most people are not aware of this mimicry and do it without even realizing it. They also found that it increases liking between those involved in the interaction.
You can use this strategy intentionally, but keep it subtle. Otherwise it may irritate people. It is best to pick one or two things to mimic; for example leg position and rate of speech.
This shows trust and willingness to invest in a mutually beneficial client relationship. Giving something of value, even if it’s just your time or expertise on something, also generates reciprocity.
Rapport between two people is a natural and essential component of any relationship, either business or personal. It will develop over time when people have a genuine interest in building the connection. You can speed up this process by practicing the skills listed above.
What other ways can massage therapists build rapport with their clients? Please comment below.