How To Build Rapport as a Massage Therapist

massage therapist building rapport with client

Have you ever known someone who seemed to be able to connect with others effortlessly and naturally? People whose conversations with strangers looked more like they were talking with an old friend?

These people could gain someone’s interest and respect quickly. They have the ability to put other people at ease. People seem to hang on their every word and are often agreeable to whatever they ask.

So what is it that these people are doing, either subconsciously or consciously, that makes them such effective communicators?

These people are using their skills of rapport.

You’ve probably experienced for yourself times when you just “hit it off” with someone you just met, without even realizing why. When this happens, there is rapport.

This post explores what rapport is, and why its important for you as a massage therapist. I’ve included tips on building rapport for so that you can connect better with anyone, including your clients.

What is rapport?

Rapport is the harmonious connection in a relationship, that comes from mutual trust, understanding, attentiveness, positivity, and emotional affinity (liking or attraction). It is a responsiveness between two people, and is created by a feeling of commonality. Rapport is essentially a communication skill. When people are in rapport, there is less conflict, and communication becomes easier and more relaxed.

build rapport massage therapy

If rapport is a connection with someone else, then building rapport is the beginning of this connection.

Establishing rapport usually occurs at the beginning of a relationship. But it can be developed at any time. For example, making an effort to increase rapport can turn an acquaintance into a friend.

Rapport is usually based on a commonality. This could be shared interests, experiences, values or beliefs. For example, there is often a shared appreciation of health and wellness between massage therapists and their clients.

When there’s rapport between two people, communication and trust become easier. People will feel “in sync” with each other. Having rapport with someone will make them listen more intently to what you have to say.

This connection, understanding and trust that come from having rapport, are what makes empathy possible. Empathy is the ability to place oneself in someone else’s situation, and it is an essential skill for massage therapy professionals.

For most women, the language of conversation is primarily a language of rapport: a way of establishing connections and negotiating relationships.

Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics

The ability to develop rapport with others is important in both our personal and professional lives. Everything is easier when there is rapport. This includes communicating, solving disagreements, and avoiding problems.

massage therapy rapport

Why building rapport is important for massage therapists

Anyone interested in succeeding in life, either personally or professionally, would benefit from understanding some techniques to build rapport. It is such an important skill, but few people know much about it.

People in professions of influence need to have good rapport-building skills. Examples of this includes teachers, doctors, moms & dads, police officers, psychologists, managers, sales people, and yes, even massage therapists.

All of these people need to be good at building rapport quickly, in order to be effective at communicating and connecting with others. Teachers need rapport to be able to effectively influence their students and encourage engaged learning. Doctors must be able to gain attention and trust from fearful and anxious patients. And massage therapists need the ability to influence others in a positive way.

The profession of massage therapy is centered around people and communication. At the core of massage therapy is the therapeutic relationship. Rapport is one of the most important aspects of the therapeutic relationship. Good rapport is needed to create a healthy client-therapist relationship. This relationship will be more productive once mutual trust and understanding have been established.

The skill of building rapport is especially important for massage therapists who have their own practice. Promoting your massage services and developing client relationships requires strong interpersonal communication skills.

Massage clients prefer to work with someone with whom they have a good relationship. Massage therapists need to use their rapport skills when welcoming new clients to put them at ease. A person decides to become a client based on how you make them feel, both physically and as a person.

Rapport and trust go hand in hand in a relationship. The massage therapist – client relationship depends on trust. This therapeutic relationship is also nurtured by consistency and reliability.

Remember that one defining characteristic of rapport is affinity, or liking. When people like you, the inevitable mistakes are easier to overlook and forgive. If a massage therapist has built good rapport with their clients, they will be more willing to refer their friends to you.

Having rapport with someone will open new opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable. A new massage therapist going on a job interview is more likely to get the job if she is proficient at building rapport quickly. The hiring manager will be more impressed with a job applicant if there is rapport. They will also be more convinced that the applicant would be a good addition to the team and get along with all the other employees.

How to build rapport

Building rapport is a communication skill. And like all other skills, it is learnable. With practice you can learn how to build rapport quickly, even with “difficult” people. It’s easy to build rapport with someone if they are a lot like you and what you have in common is obvious. But sometimes you have to really work at it.

Sometimes rapport can develop naturally without even trying. But people who are consistently good at establishing rapport have developed this skill over time, with deliberate practice.

Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.

Brian Tracy

The ability to build rapport is an important skill for establishing both personal and business relationships. It is worth your time to learn how to develop rapport. Studying how rapport is built is like learning the art of conversation.

Developing rapport begins the second you meet someone. From then on, during this encounter and later ones, rapport will either be strengthened or undermined. It requires consistency.

If you’re an introvert, don’t worry. The rapport-building tips that I give below are easy and they don’t require the gift of gab. Introverts may even be better at building rapport because they often don’t want the attention on them. They prefer to listen and keep the attention on the other person.

Rapport is established best through one-on-one, face-to-face interaction. However it can be established with a group, as a teacher would establish rapport with her class, or a presenter would establish rapport with the audience.

There are a few obstacles to building rapport. These include things like envy, pride, cynicism, self-consciousness, or ego.

6 tips to establish rapport quickly

I’ve put together this list of rapport-building techniques to help you learn how to connect with people quickly. These can come in handy when meeting with new massage clients, or when talking to someone who you would like to have a deeper relationship with.

1. Break the ice

It can be easy to overlook this sometimes, but simply introducing yourself and engaging in some small talk is a great way to “break the ice” and start building rapport.

The other person will feel a greater sense of rapport the more you focus your attention on her, and listen to what she saying. Shake hands to break the initial touch barrier. Be friendly and approachable.

2. Ask good questions and use active listening skills

Asking questions will help you build rapport much more than talking about yourself. Questions are simply tools that you can use to find commonalities. So don’t just ask random questions, but ask questions that can reveal something that you have in common, that is significant and meaningful to the other person too. You may be excited that you both drive the same kind of car, but that must be important to the other person too.

Asking follow-up questions is a good strategy. This will help the the conversation flow naturally in a direction that interests the other person. In fact, a Harvard study published in 2017 showed that question-asking increases interpersonal liking. Stick with asking open-ended questions. That is, questions that cannot simply be answered with a yes or no.

You will always learn more by listening than talking. People love talking about themselves, so let them. Massage therapists who are good listeners will learn more about their clients, and how to serve them better.

When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.

Ernest Hemingway

When listening to someone, listen for a more energized speaking pattern and rate of speech, and watch for more animation in their facial expressions and gestures. This generally indicates that you’ve found a topic that is particularly interesting to them.

 

Active listening techniques

Active listening is the process of carefully and mindfully listening to what someone is saying. It is trying to go beyond just hearing the words, to understand the meaning behind them. Active listening involves using techniques to encourage the speaker to elaborate and continue talking. These techniques include:

  • Summarizing back to the other person what they just said, in order to ensure that you understood them
  • Asking for them to elaborate on something
  • Showing concern and empathy
  • Use nonverbal cues like leaning forward, head nodding, and appropriate facial expressions to show understanding
  • Offer occasional brief affirmations such as “I see.” “That makes sense.” “Exactly”

3. Find common ground

Having something in common is a way to instantly connect with someone. It doesn’t have to be anything major. Think about all the groups and associations that are started based on something that may seem insignificant or even silly to other people, but is important to members of that group.

The thing you have in common could be that you went to the same school, have children the same age, like the same music, or are both into healthy lifestyles.

Building rapport with massage therapy clients is always easier when you focus on similarities rather than differences. You may be different in almost every way, but you will build rapport much easier if you focus on what you have in common.

4. Make the other person feel important

Focus on the person in front of you. Put his or her needs ahead of your own. Avoid looking at your watch or phone, or letting yourself get distracted. Give the other person your full attention. Show respect and avoid interrupting. Be genuinely interested in their well-being.

If you’re in a conversation with someone who is acting like they would rather be somewhere else and makes you feel unimportant, you probably wouldn’t stick around either!

Keep the conversation on them. A massage client doesn’t want to hear you talking about yourself. People want to know that you care about them and value them. In fact, people will often remember how you make them feel long after they have forgotten what you said.

Use their name. Everyone loves to hear their own name. Find ways to interject their name in your conversation. Plus using someone’s name a few times will help you to remember it.

5. Body language

Body language and other non-verbal techniques are a powerful aspect of building rapport.

Try to be open with your posture. Avoid crossing your arms or legs. Face the other person when speaking with them. Ideally you would have no physical barriers (like furniture, a computer or a phone) between you when talking with someone. When people are relaxed or comfortable, they tend to move their body and arms more freely, and be more expressive when they talk.

Matching and mirroring is a special type of body language. When people are in rapport they subconsciously mimic each other. During an interaction, they may both adopt a particular arm position, gestures, tone, rate of speech or breathing, or stance.

You can try consciously mirroring someone and you will both begin to feel more in sync. You shouldn’t try to mimic everything, that would be creepy. But mirroring one or two things is normal and natural.

6. Project confidence

Try to project confidence when you are talking with clients, even if you don’t feel all that confident. Stand up straight with your head up, shoulders back and chest forward (you know, good posture).

Sometimes just the act of physically maintaining a posture of confidence will help you to actually feel more confident. The more you do this, the more natural it will feel.

Make eye contact. They say that the eye are the windows to the soul. Looking at someone in the eyes is a way to let them into you life.

Challenge

Try just picking a few of these tips to start using when you are talking to your clients or even just in social situations.

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