Style differences in couples and NLP

Style differences in couples can lead to misunderstandings. Body language, eye contact, or lack thereof, how fast or slowly you talk, the words you use, thinking styles, and how you act can affect your relationships with people.  In this blog, I talk about personal ways of being, noticing people’s interests, ways of processing when they’re upset and ways to make connection with people.


I learned to observe style differences in Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) training in the 1990s. However, the top web sites that show up on a google search are not at all helpful. So allow me to summarize some of the useful elements of neurolinguistic programming.


Rapport (French word, pronounced rap por): Good rapport is connection that feels good. You can often tell when people are in rapport because their body language is similar. For example, their legs look the same. They’re both crossed or not. Their bodies are in similar positions. For example, both might be leaning forward towards each other. Their voices are equally loud, they move the same, and they use the same level of vocabulary. If one swears a lot, so does the other. You get the idea. 


If you’re not in rapport, what can you do?


Observe:  You can consciously make the effort to observe the other person’s style.  How far apart from you do they stand?  How big is their personal space?  Do they talk with their hands?  What is their body position?  What is their energy level?  What are they talking about?  How do they process?  How do they make decisions?  How do they deal with conflict?  What motivates and inspires them?


Match:  You can consciously make the effort to match them.  If they’re loud, and you’re not, raise your voice a little.  If they’re being intense, ratchet up your intensity a little.  People feel mocked if you copy them exactly.  So, think and act and move and talk a little more like them.  Modify how you are to match them a little.


In one NLP training the facilitator told a long story about bouncers at night clubs. Some of them are masters at rapport. The long and short of it was that good bouncers match the body language of a rowdy customer just right and get them to de-escalate, calm down. They prevent fights; they don’t just stop them.


 I’m into psychology and body language and people and how they get along, or not. If the other person is leaning forward, I lean forward to match them. When it fits in the flow of things, I have meta-conversation about styles. For example, I might say, “Our styles are really different. I noticed that you like to think things through. When things get intense, you want some space to process. It seems like you need to think things through and feel your feelings on your own. You take some space, go to your room, and you calm down before you’re ready to talk again.”  


In a friendship when I’m getting to know someone, I might say, “You seem like you’re into family, and you enjoy adventure. I bet you would go to an amusement park with your kids at the drop of a hat.” 


There is a whole lot more to be said on this topic. But note that differences between the two people who make up a couple are important. At first opposites attract, but then, opposite become irritating. When things settle down in a relationship, people accept the ways that are different in their loved one. That doesn’t mean it stops annoying you. You just learn to live with it and laugh about it, in a kind way, together. 


One of my favorite couples therapists says that there is a circle of things we will always disagree about in a relationship. We just have to be aware of what’s in that circle and keep the conversation going about those differences. Believe me, disliking your in-laws does not necessarily go away, but together you can learn to live with it.