Everybody uses three primary representational systems – visual, aural and kinaesthetic. And each of us majors in one system or another. We all know people who learn better by seeing it done, hearing it explained, or by having a ‘hands on’ go themselves – you might know this of yourself. Well its no surprise that these systems can enhance or block effective communication.

If I am trying to achieve rapport with someone it is best to match their representational system. To a predominantly visual person a response such as “I see what you mean” feels congruent. To say to them “I hear what you’re saying’ is less effective, I would reserve that for aural people. Kinaesthetes are more likely to ask “do you grasp what I’m saying” or respond to “I feel I’m getting you” than “That is becoming clear to me”.

In my therapy work I know that whilst clients are feeling ‘unheard’ they will circle back around the same communication, often in different forms or iterations. Once they have felt properly heard they instinctively move on to the next step – whatever that may be. The same is true in mediation – communicating understanding at a deep level unlocks the opportunity to progress.

So, rapport is important in facilitating smooth conversations that flow and appear satisfying. Of course, I don’t always want rapport – the NLP maxim “match for rapport, mismatch to lead” reminds us that sometimes, usually having achieved rapport, we are trying to lead into a different state. This can be as subtle as using breathing patterns with the anxious client but is particularly powerful when using representational systems.

Very often when observing people at the start of a mediation I notice the blocks to communication – if there is a strong mismatch it can often explain the mis-communications that have led to escalatory misunderstandings with the issue at hand. In such situations a translator is needed. This can be as simple as re-framing one person’s communication style – by way of a checking and clarification – so that the other person can hear it. Watching body language at these moments is a good feedback loop as to my effectiveness – if everyone breathes and relaxes then that small task has been accomplished. It may need repeating and there are other interventions that will help however we have started nudging everyone towards alignment.