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Building Rapport With Your Therapy Clients – 3 Specific Techniques

Why remembering tiny details makes the biggest difference (with video demonstration)

Building Rapport Techniques
Better rapport often leads to better therapy outcomes

How do you feel when someone forgets your name?

After you’ve spoken to them a lot and got the impression that they know you?

It might not send you into a spiral of depression but it’s not very nice either, is it?

So now, how would you feel if you sat with someone for a whole hour, telling them about what’s happening in your life, and at the end of that time they’d forgotten the name of your partner?

The partner whose name you mentioned so frequently in the course of the conversation, the partner who recently left you?

Let’s put this another way. How does it feel when you briefly mention some detail and the person you are talking to actually remembers it?

How special, listened to and therefore connected to a person do you feel when they feed back some detail you’ve told them, perhaps only once?

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The angel’s in the detail

Recalling things that people tell you and then talking about them opens a doorway into their world. Of course, we all forget details sometimes in daily life – we’re human. But as counsellors and therapists we should make it a point of honour to remember what our clients tell us.

So how can you use detail to increase a sense of rapport with your client and make your therapy more effective?

As therapists we should make it a point of honour to remember what our clients tell us

For more technique demonstration videos, see Uncommon Practitioners TV

3 specific rapport-building techniques

1. Remember – timing is everything

If someone mentions to me in passing that they love water skiing but haven’t done it for years, I could of course pick up on that and talk about it right there and then.

I could do that.

But if I don’t particularly acknowledge this nugget at the time (almost as if I haven’t heard it) but then much later refer back to it, the impact of me recalling this detail – and so showing just how intently I am taking in what matters to my client – will be all the greater.

So, in the case of our water skier, if an appropriate opportunity arose, the conversation might go something like this:

Client: You know, I feel as if my life is just swamped by work. I really need to be able to organize my time better and set limits on how much work I do at weekends…

MeWell, you know about the importance of balance. I’m no expert, but I’d guess that when you water ski, if you’re off balance, you can’t really go forwards – because you’ll just sink. And I would imagine that you can only really fully enjoy the pleasures of water skiing when you’ve got more in control and can reliably keep your balance. That’s when the fun really starts, isn’t it?

In this scenario, I’ve brought up something they have only briefly mentioned at some previous point – minutes, hours or possibly even several sessions before. I’ve also used it as a potential transferable resource (the balance, determination and skill needed to water ski).

It’s also useful to log briefly mentioned details in your mind to use later during a hypnotic session.

2. Don’t overdo it

Rather than saying:

Now you know how you previously mentioned that you liked to water ski…

you might just casually bring up water skiing (or whatever the subject is) in the conversation, as I’ve illustrated above, without drawing any special attention to what you are doing.

This allows the sense of rapport to build almost below consciousness. The client will pick up the fact that you’ve remembered a small but important detail and will respond accordingly. You don’t have to shine a bright light on it.

3. Write away right away!

When your client has left, always write down the details of what they’ve told you – the names of people who matter, dates, times of events, stuff they’ve told you is important and minor details. (Obviously, you should keep this information under lock and key for the sake of confidentiality.) Before you see them again, hypnotically rehearse using these details to help make it feel natural to use them.

Dropping in accurate details from the client’s life (especially if they’ve only mentioned it once) is the magic potion of rapport – as it gives them a sense of being understood at the same time as helping you understand.

The kinds of detail you can use include:

  • names – partners, family members, colleagues, friends, significant people (each one you memorize will provide you with an extra brick in building rapport)
  • places – where they went on holiday, where they grew up, where they met people who are important to them (It’s not that you have to ask for all this detail – just be prepared to mention it if they mention it)
  • facts – for example, if you’re seeing a smoker, remember if they’ve quit smoking before and how long they stayed free, how old people are in their life, what they’ve told you about what people do or have said
  • interests, likes and dislikes
  • incidentals about the therapy sessions themselves – it may seem trivial to say

    Ah, last week it was pouring with rain when you came in; it’s nice to see the sun this week!

    but it conveys the message that

    I recall our session in detail

    rather than

    I dimly recall I’ve seen you before somewhere!

In summary, using what might seem like superficial trivia can help us build truly deep rapport with our clients. People need to have a sense that the minute detail of their life is respected and valued. It provides a powerful antidote to the deadening sense of insignificance and unimportance that blights so many lives and gives people a sense that they matter. Which matters.

New Ways of Seeing Ebook

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Download my book on reframing, "New Ways of Seeing", when you subscribe for free email updates

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Mark Tyrrell

About Mark Tyrrell

Psychology is my passion. I've been a psychotherapist trainer since 1998, specializing in brief, solution focused approaches. I now teach practitioners all over the world via our online courses.

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