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CRASH or COACH State? The Importance of Rapport in Managing Cultural Change

The Importance of Rapport in Managing Cultural Change

This blog will address the important topic of building rapport in relation to change managements processes. In our book Leading Cultural Change: The Theory and Practice of Successful Organizational Transformation we discuss at length the role of ‘generative dialogue’ in building stakeholder engagement in advance of and during cultural change projects. Lack of dialogue and productive leadership are cited in the literature as Meta fault lines that corrode change processes and undermine successful outcomes. Regardless of one’s philosophical position towards managing change empirically one cannot escape from the human dimension. Managers trying to manage change processes must inevitably engage with other people. They need the support and involvement of critical stakeholders.

70% of change projects disappoint

It is widely accepted that up to 70% of change management projects fail to realise all of their objectives. One significant reason for this is that aspiring change leaders fail to appreciate the importance of rapport building processes or of the methods one can employ to build rapport. Also it is the case that the concept of rapport is not one that well established in in popular practitioner change management books. This may be because the concept is out with the general language games performed within management circles. The emphasis is usually placed upon communication as a general change strategy. Within the holding category of communication we find the usual suspects:

  • Team meetings
  • Team briefing notes
  • Pod casts
  • Newsletters
  • Focus groups
  • Surveys
  • Presentations

The art of thinking together

There is nothing wrong with the mediums yet they still fail to communicate effectively. We think that the reason for this is that what’s missing is ‘rapport’ and this is very important because rapport is the bridge that connects people together in active ‘dialogue’. And dialogue which is defined as by William Isaccs as ‘the art of thinking together’ is a critical social dynamic that must be established between aspiring change leaders and potential followers if the social momentum to drive successful change work is to be established. In the absence of rapport then we have little capacity for generating collaborative leadership conditions amongst key stakeholders to support the realisation of the vision and associated mission of the organisation at large. Thus change projects that involve a shift in attitudes, beliefs, values and assumption which drive behavioural norms will most likely fail.

NLP moving the boundaries

It is within the field of NLP that rapport has been recognised as a central dynamic in personal and group change. The change facilitator or NLP trainer cannot be effective unless they build rapport with their clients. Tony Robbins claims that ‘Rapport is Power’ in that rapport provides the power to change or to advance ones situation and this applies equally at the organisational level as well as the individual level. The challenge for today’s leaders is to imbed rapport building competencies into their organisational leadership network. The ability to manage relationships in a dynamic and turbulent organisational landscape is no longer something that should be taken for granted. This competency is a strategic variable that is without doubt ‘the difference that makes the difference’ and the levers that establish high performance relationship management skills are rapport building skills. These can be modelled in a relatively quick time period. These are skills that can be passed on to a management community through NLP training courses. If one can build rapport we can influence social outcomes. This involves one being sensitive to how the other expresses themselves and the values that drive their expressions and the ways in which they perceive and represent their reality perceptions.

Defining Rapport

Some 80 years ago Dale Carnegie published his seminal work “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. The book is still a classic and highly relevant today. Essentially the book is about relationship management. What is relationship management? Well put simply it is all about building and maintaining ‘rapport’. There is no doubting the fact that the quality of a relationship can be defined by the strength of rapport two people have with one and other. Rapport involves an incremental social process that opens up channels for dialogue both internal and external to one’s self. This is an unusual idea; the concept of internal versus external rapport. What this means is that you are both internally congruent in relation to your assumptions, values and beliefs and externally congruent with others.

COACH versus CRASH State

When you are in state of internal rapport you are in a high performing state. When you are in this state of mind other people sense this and if you then build rapport with them you have both internal and external rapport and this is a very powerful resource state to be in. In NLP Terms we would say that you are in COACH state which stands for:

  • Centred; you have internal rapport and feel strong and confident
  • Open; you are open to new ideas, new possibilities and the world views of others
  • Attending; you attend to the needs and aspirations of others with awareness
  • Connected; you are connected in dialogue with others
  • Holding; whatever is happening from a state of resourcefulness

This is the opposite of what we call CRASH state which stands for:

  • Contracted: closed to the ideas and influences of others, self-protective and distrusting.
  • Reactive: snapping at situations, responding unreflectively, driven by self-protective and distrusting emotions.
  • Action paralysis; the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome
  • Separated: detached from stakeholders, closed to building affective emotions and relations, emphasis is placed on calculative transactional relations and cognitive emotional processes.
  • Hurt or hating: which involves feelings of disappointment or rejection towards the wider social field.

In our book we advance the premise that being in a state of generative dialogue with all of your key stakeholders is critical if successful cultural change projects are to emerge. In California change leaders such as Robert Dilts and Judith Delozier are developing some really interesting ideas rooted in family therapy which can help us develop rapport building skills. The use of COACH to counter CRASH state is a good example. Robert and Judy believe that in many cases rapport is broken because of the emotional and psychological states change managers bring to their audiences or their work. Being aware of these through critical self-reflection and being able to shift your state from CRASH to COACH and to elicit such change in others are fundamental change leadership skills.

Closing comments
Rapport is defined as low resistance between two or more individuals which enables alignment of values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. Rapport is a magical dynamic which as Carnegie said enables influencing processes and winning friends. People do tend to like people who are like themselves. Robert Dilts and Judith DeLozier (2000, pp1051) frame rapport as follows:

“One of the most important relational skills in NLP is the ability to establish rapport with others. Rapport involves building trust, harmony, and co-operation in a relationship. ‘Harmonious mutual understanding,’, ‘agreement,’ being ‘in tune’ and ‘in accord,’ are some of the words used to describe the process and or the state of being in rapport with another.”

Rapport can also be defined as ‘The quality of a relationship that results in mutual trust and When one is in a state of rapport with another person, or with a group, it is an experience that can be considered as ‘being in tune’ with the others. Rather like the frequency of a radio station, when building rapport we are literally ‘tuning’ into the others ‘wave length’. Rapport is an essential part of society’s structural and cultural dynamics. It is difficult to conceive of a cohesive and stable society or culture in the absence of rapport. Much of the material in our book aims at providing the reader with a range of ideas and techniques that can lead to more effective rapport building processes and thus successful stakeholder engagement and change outcomes.

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