It’s a fact that all of us live in our worlds due to different realities. This is explored in details in my article here. Each of us live in a different virtual world and hence, we project our virtual realities outwards to the universal physical world that we live in. Unfortunately, this projection is one way and no matter how much we hope that others will see our realities the way we do, it’s highly impossible because they live in their own separate realities and hence different worlds. In another words, we are living on different virtual planets (where we are the only inhabitants) while occupying similar physical spaces. From a metaphorical perspective, asking/expecting/demanding others to see our world the way we do is akin to taking our spectacles/contact lenses off and wanting others to wear them and seeing our worlds through these lenses. However, each of us has different eye degrees; some of us are short-sighted, long-sighted or even myopic. Thus, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to looking at the world. This is due to our different life experiences, culture and upbringing that each of us has. To be a great communicator, this is one of the primary understandings of psychology that each communicator needs to know. In my article above, I have given readers insights on how to go about accessing someone’s realities and subsequently their world. But it takes time.
If we are talking about establishing and maintaining short-term rapport with others, there is a better and more efficient way.
This understanding of us having different realities pales in comparison to another fact that is more crucial in all if not most successful communications: that of our moods or temperaments. While our realities may forge our world, they do not affect our communication with others within a short duration. Our realities will also come into play when we are engaged in communication with others through a sustained and long period of time. Thus it is not possible to establish rapport with others in short-term social gatherings and chance meetings along the streets through the understanding of their realities. However, we are able to by aligning our moods and temperaments with theirs. Here’s an interesting observation: the chances of us establishing short-term rapport with them based on their temperaments is possible, and it’s two or even three times higher. This is because people like people who are like them, and who like them. It is important to note at this point that while we may observe a particular individual having a certain mood or temperaments at that point in time, it might not be indicative of their true selves. It might merely be the fact that they are happy because it’s their birthday on that day or that they are disappointed because they have failed their exams. Their temperaments and moods will inevitably change over a course of a few days/weeks/years, depending on their susceptibility to changes in the external circumstances (which varies widely between individuals).
But in the process of communication, the difference in the moods and temperaments of others and ourselves do not matter. In another words, what’s important in establishing rapport in the short-run occurs at the point of contact, specifically the awareness of the change in temperaments and moods in others as well as the development of an ability to cope with this change by aligning our moods and temperaments with theirs. The moods and temperaments of the person at the point of contact is the most crucial. As long as we align our moods and temperaments with that of the other person, it’s highly likely that strong rapport will be established. Please note that this practice is – in no way- an act of manipulation or deception. We are merely reacting to the situation in the best way possible. For example, if we enter a room and see a large group of friends breaking into laughter due to some jokes, would we laugh along with them as well? Or would we keep a straight face throughout the session? If we adopt the latter, we will probably be ostracised by the rest. After all, laugh and the world laugh with you. Cry and you cry alone. Consider another example. If one of our friends invite us to their dinner and while we are on our way there, our bosses called and informed us that we are going to be retrenched in a week’s time and that he feels that he should be the one to break the news to us rather than the Human Resources department. When we reached the venue of our friends’ wedding dinner, there are two ways that we will usually react: we either walk into the wedding dinner with strained smiles on our faces or we call and inform our friends that something urgent came up and thus, we are unable to attend the dinner. It’s highly unlikely that we will walk in with frowns on our faces to congratulate the newly-wed couples because I believe that at a subconscious level, we understand that weddings are a happy occasion and if our moods and temperaments do not suit the occasion, it’s best that we change our behaviour and attitude to suit the occasion rather than trying to change the ambience to suit us (which is almost impossible).
It’s always better to align our mood and temperaments to others rather than the other way round. I call this the “unwritten rule” of communications. However, there is an exception to this rule. Should the temperaments of the other party be negative or more negative than ours, then it’s advisable for us to influence them with our more positive moods and sentiments. By doing so, we benefit not only the mental well-being of the other party but also create a positive ambience that is more conducive for conversations and friendship-building. Moreover, if there are other parties around in the setting, setting a positive mood will benefit them as well. However, this can only be done when we acknowledge the feelings of others first. We listen to others’ moods first before attempting to influence them. It is important that others get a sense of acknowledgement of their feelings because it’s human nature that we want others to understand our current situation, plight and predicament first before we will make efforts to change or accept them as a friend. This is similar to others who often apologise to us after we have apologised to them. Human nature seems to dictate that we need an opportunity to apologise when engaged in a conflict. Such an opportunity often appears in the form of an apology offered by others or as an acknowledgement by others that we are right. In the absence of such an opportunity, we seldom apologise, with our proclivity to apologise in inverse proporation to the size of our egos. Professional and accomplished counsellors understand this and hence they show the other party that they are empathising first before beginning the counselling session. And one of the primary ways to express empathy is to listen without judgement, advice or comments. Refrain also from saying “I understand”, since in actuality – unless we have encountered and experienced similar situations – we really do not understand. Saying that we understand when we don’t is a contradiction that communicators do not want to make (since trust, sincerity and credibility are lost), and this is especially so for professional psychologists and counsellors.
Coming back to the subject of establishing short-tem rapport through the alignment of our moods and temperaments with others and establishing long-term rapport through the understanding of their realities, we can illustrate this principle with a scenario of the crumbling of a couple’s marriage. When a man meets a lady of a similar temperament or vice versa, they will undoubtedly fall in love. Couples often describe this romantic phase as “meeting someone whom they seem to have met before”, “a sort of familiarity with the person, as if I have known him/her my entire life” etc. Personally, I feel that this is just an illusion. The primary reason for this sentiments lies in their temperaments. There are two reasons leading to such a conclusion:
- Childhood experiences: There are some theories on love and romance that states that we often look for partners whose temperaments are similar to our parents (especially the parent who has a dominant influence during our childhood days). I feel that there’s a certain truth in this.
- Life experiences: All of us have different life experiences, but we share a similarity in that all our life experiences fall into two categories: positive and negative. Based on the people that we meet, we will be attracted to people who give us a positive life experiences and we are repelled by those individuals who give us a negative life experiences. It’s from my experience that if we were to sum up the temperaments of individuals who attract us, the temperaments of these individuals are the same. The same can be said for individuals who repel us. There is a pattern. Over time, being creatures of habits, we will somehow be controlled by this pattern. This is the reason why some people always end up with partners of the same temperaments.
After these couples got married, things start to fall apart because although they have the same temperaments, they do not share the same realities. While he may like to help others, she is more “self-centric” (conflict in values). While he wants seven kids, she does not intend to have any (conflict in marital values). While he prefers to party, she prefers to stay home (conflict in lifestyle). Our realities are complex since they consist of different components, of which values, marital values and lifestyle are among them. This is also the reason why numerous self-help books place so much emphasis on asking questions that relates to life after marriage (and which many euphoric couple fails to see during the dating phrase). These self-help books are – in actuality- helping these couples to map out their realities to see if there is an alignment before the important decision to tie the knot.
Thus, to establish rapport in the short term, it’s best if we align our moods and temperaments with others. However, when it comes to sustaining a long term working relationship with colleagues/bosses or building lifelong friendships/marriages, we have to go beyond that and understand their realities, which – while it can be achieved- is very challenging.
Well, who says working with others or living with another person is easy?
But then, joy is derived from relationships and it’s only through these relationships that we learn most of life’s lessons.
Yes, it’s a contradiction. But a fact of life as well.