Jim Johnson
Editor’s Note:This article is the first of a two-part series.

A discussion on the subject of communication skills for technical professionals is usually characterized by this direct statement: “You cannot not communicate.”

Have you ever heard somebody say this about a technician? “He really knows his stuff when it comes to the technical side of things, but his people skills really suck.”

If you’ve heard that about a particular technician, it’s quite possible that what’s going on there is that what he is trying to do is avoid the customer service side of his job. And that’s something we know is impossible to do, because like I just said — you cannot not communicate.

As a technician who wants to provide outstanding customer service, you simply must communicate well with your customer and be able to establish rapport with them. The idea of rapport is important to us as technical professionals. If there is rapport between a technician and the customer, then the customer feels comfortable about the technician — and ultimately the entire organization that’s providing the service. On the other hand, if there is no rapport between the customer and the technician, the customer’s discomfort can lead to things like unnecessary complaints or callbacks.

Defining Rapport

So, I want to talk about how a technical professional goes about understanding the process of establishing rapport with customers, and to begin, I’m going to give a formal definition of rapport.

Here it is — rapport defined:

“An harmonious, empathetic, or sympathetic relation or connection to another. An accord or affinity. To offer back with grace and dignity.”

Now, like most formal definitions, there’s a lot to take in when considering this one, so I want to spend some time taking a close look at it.

When you read the first part through again, ”An harmonious, empathetic, or sympathetic relation or connection to another,” you find the terms harmony, empathy and sympathy describing a real honest-to-goodness connection between two people.

And then there’s the second part, “An accord or affinity.” An accord meaning an agreement between two people, an affinity meaning that comfortable connection that makes everyone involved feel safe and with a complete understanding of everything that’s going on between two people.

And those first two segments of the definition are good stuff, no doubt about it. But, it’s the last part of that definition that really brings the idea of establishing rapport with somebody home for me.

And here’s that last part again: “To offer back with grace and dignity.”

For me, that really says it all when it comes to customer service for technical professionals. After all, more often than not, you’re there to solve a problem or fill a need for the customer. And they spend some time either telling you exactly what the problem or need is, or they need a lot of good information from you on how you’re going to solve their problem or fill that need.

And what better way is there to provide outstanding customer service than to communicate back to the customer — to offer back with grace and dignity — that you understand what they’re going through and what their need is? And what better way is there to let them know that you’re a competent professional who can solve their problem or fill their need?

Truly, there is no better way to accomplish that goal — but things don’t always work out that way, do they? Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the rapport just doesn’t happen. Which leads me to ask the simple question: Why?

Why is it that it doesn’t always work out? Well, one reason could be that the “offering back with grace and dignity” process just isn’t there. And the reason it’s not there is because sometimes two people are saying the same thing, but it’s being understood differently.

Let me ask you two questions:

First, have you ever felt that sometimes you just “click” with somebody right off the bat with what seems to be no effort at all?

And second, have you ever met somebody and just felt “there’s something I don’t like about this person?”

Odds are that your answer to both of those questions is yes. And if it’s yes for you, then it makes sense that it could be yes for others — meaning your customer. There will be times that your customer will tend to feel they can trust you right away, and times that they are just experiencing an underlying feeling that there’s something they don’t feel comfortable about.

So what I want to do is present some information about a science of communication that can help you understand why things sometimes don’t “click” between two people, and what you can do to increase your “click” percentage.

This science came about quite a few years back when a linguistics professor and a math professor, John Grinder and Richard Bandler, asked the question, “Why is it that two persons can be exposed to the same information but understand it differently?”

Neuro Linguistic Programming

The end result of their asking that question was the development of something called neuro linguistic programming. Now, when you examine this carefully, here’s what it means:

  • First, neuro means brain.

  • Second, linguistic means language.

  • Third, programming means information processing.

    So when you put it all together, neuro linguistic programming is a science that explains how a person’s brain uses certain language to process information.

    And what Bandler and Grinder were able to establish was that not everybody uses the same method. People are different, and that sometimes leads to a lack of good communication. As a matter of fact, they were able to establish that, fundamentally, there are three methods of information processing, and they are:

    1. Visual;

    2. Auditory; and

    3. Kinesthetic.

    What this means is that a person may lean heavily on a visual strategy — looking and seeing — for understanding and accepting things around them. While another person may use an auditory strategy — listening — to make sense of things. And still another person may lean on a kinesthetic strategy — getting a “feel” for things rather than relying on what they see or hear.

    One simple way to look at neuro linguistic programming is that we human beings tend to be dominant in one information processing system while using the other two as support systems.

    A dominantly visual person, for example, may be listening to what you’re saying to them, but they’re watching more intently than they’re listening. People who are dominantly visual respond well to things being written down on paper for them, or to things that are bright and colorful. And a dominantly visual person, when speaking, will use “sight” words to indicate that they understand you.

    For example, if you were to ask the generic question, “Do you understand?”, a visual person may respond with, “Yeah, I see what you mean.” Or, if they’re asking you if you understand them, they might ask, “Do you see what I mean?” or “Do you get the picture?” They might also have a tendency to say things like “Let me show you what I mean,” when explaining something.

    Now, a dominantly auditory person won’t use the same kinds of words when they’re understanding things or trying to make themselves understood. They’ll use sound-related words. If you were to ask a dominantly auditory person, “Do you understand?”, the response may be something like, “I hear you,” or “That sounds right to me.”

    And if a dominantly auditory person were asking you if you understood them, they might ask something like, “Am I coming through loud and clear?”, which by the way can sound confrontational to somebody who’s not dominantly auditory, and that can ultimately lead to some uncomfortable communication.

    Also, a kinesthetic person would respond differently to the question, “Do you understand?” They might respond with something like, “Yeah, I get it,” or, “I’ve got a feel for what you’re talking about.”

    Now, if a kinesthetic person were asking you if you understood something they were trying to explain, they might ask: “Catch my drift?” Which could be another example of a phrase that can be totally innocent to the person asking the question, but might make people who are not kinesthetic feel less than comfortable when they hear it.

    Are you getting the picture of what I’m explaining to you here? Am I coming through loud and clear? Are you able to get a grip on what I’m saying about people, communication, and gaining rapport?

    I’m sure you understand. The point of understanding neuro linguistic programming is that, if you can figure out what a person’s dominant information processing system is, you can establish rapport with them by using the right kind of words that they are most comfortable with, and avoiding words that might make them feel uncomfortable.

    And, of course, the other point I want to make here is that one element of knowing what to do as far as adjusting your communication to better “fit” with that of your customer, is to know what your dominant information processing system is. Think about it. If you know what you tend to lean toward in the science of neuro linguistic programming, then you’ll be better prepared to understand when you have to adjust for your customer.

    In Part Two, we will discuss how you find out where you fit into the neuro linguistic programming profile.

    Jim Johnson is a technician, instructor, and technical writer who is nationally recognized for his development of handbooks and video-based training for the HVACR industry. His firm provides on-site workshops in both the technical and soft skills areas. For more information, call 520-625-6847 or visit www.technicaltrainingassoc.com.

    Publication date: 01/27/2003