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10 Minutes to Better Communication

Feb 19, 2007

A successful instructor develops an affinity with, an understanding of and a harmonious interrelationship with people from all walks of life. When participants respond readily and easily to an instructor, we say that she or he has developed “rapport” with those participants. But what exactly is “rapport,” and how can you build rapport with your class?

Rapport is a sympathetic relationship or understanding that allows you to look at the world from someone else’s perspective. Making other people feel that you understand them creates a strong bond. Building rapport is the first step to better communication — the primary goal of all true educators.

Forms of Communication

A classic study on communication styles conducted by Albert Mehrabian suggests that 7% of communication takes place through words, 38% through voice intonation, and 55% through body language. If you rely solely on conversation to build rapport, you will miss out on a lot of opportunities to create commonality with other people. Put simply, it is not so much what you say that matters but how you say it and the way your body expresses it. Fortunately body-mind instructors have a lot of experience transmitting information with their bodies!

Nonverbal Communication Skills

Most of us recognize that we communicate the meaning behind our words through our voice intonation, facial expressions and gestures. Body posture and body expression also convey meaning. These forms of nonverbal communication can lead to misinterpretation on the one hand or greater understanding on the other. The lists below give examples of “friendly” and “unfriendly” expressions, gestures and postures. Make sure you are portraying a friendly image to students and clients.

Conveys Friendly Messages:

• palms open

• facing participants

• Open body position (e.g., uncrossed arms and legs)

• “soft” joints

• moving among the group

• smiling

• winking

• nodding

• touching (with permission)

• giving the “okay” sign

• showing thumbs up

Conveys Unfriendly Messages:

• pointing fingers

• closed body position (e.g., crossed arms and legs)

• turning your back while speaking

• Hands on your hips

• frowning

• shaking your head

• nodding

• rolling your eyes

• looking away

• grimacing

• yawning

• keeping equipment between you and participants

Physical Contact

Touching is one way of communicating with your body. If done judiciously, touching can achieve a number of goals. It can be reassuring; it can be a gesture that says, “I haven’t forgotten you,” it can break down barriers between you and another person. However, you need to be cautious in this area, since touching can build rapport for some and distance for others. Some participants are comfortable touching and being touched, but others react negatively.

Personal Space

The amount of personal space an individual requires varies from one person to another. Notice how close, or far, your participants situate themselves when they approach you. By keeping the same amount of space between you when you speak to them, you will avoid encroaching on their personal space.

Verbal Communication Skills

Of course, talking to participants is crucial. It’s important to know how to begin and end conversations — and open and close classes.

Conversation Openers

The “prep” time before class is a perfect opportunity to mingle with waiting participants. When trying to commence a conversation, use one of the three following conversation openers: (1) Ask a question, (2) give an opinion or (3) state a fact. In framing your question, opinion or fact, rely on any of the following three topics: (1) the situation, (2) the other person or (3) yourself.

Participants fall into two categories — people you know and people you don’t. Using the above principles, here are some suggested openers for people you know:

“Hi, Sandra, how is_____ (child, spouse, yoga partner)?”

“Morning, Greg. I’m adding some sun salutations to class today because I know you like it.” Addressing newcomers offers an excellent opportunity to establish communication from day one. Again, use versions of the three conversation openers: “Hi, I’m _____. Is this your first class today?” “Welcome! My name is ______ and I’ll be teaching the class. Tell me what brought you here today.” Follow your opening statement with some qualifying questions to learn more about the participant so you can increase his or her comfort level.

Ending Conversations

Exiting the conversation is often easier than entering it, because your participants realize you have other people in the room to attend to. You could say, for example, “Good to see you here again. I’d better keep moving.” Or “I’ve got some suggestions on how you could solve that problem. Have you got two minutes after class?”

Opening Sessions and Classes

The introduction is essential — first impressions make a big difference. This is often your first point of communication for the day with many of your participants. Do not be afraid to make the same points from one class to the next. Newcomers will appreciate them and regulars may want reminders. Just be sure to “shuffle” the wording a bit to keep everyone’s attention. Quickly go through the following mental checklist before starting. Beginning with the “INTRO” checklist will force you to communicate with your class beyond just cuing and technique. Vary the order (e.g. NTIRO or NRIOT) to stay fresh and slightly unpredictable.

Introduce yourself and greet the class.

Name the type of class to be taught.

Talk about the class components.

Reassure newcomers and first-timers.

Organize the group and required equipment.

Closing Classes and Sessions

Just as important as what you say during the introduction is what you say during the ending. Often, the last thing you say is what stays in people’s minds, so try to finish on a positive note.

Congratulate participants and thank them for coming.

Give Local announcements.

Offer to be available.


Exchange a pleasantry.

Making the Connection

A big loss in teaching is knowing your subject matter but not your participants. Inspiring communicators work on understanding other people’s worlds. Rapport is accessible to everyone. All you need are the tools you already have — your eyes, ears and senses. Oh, and one more thing — the genuine desire to connect with others.

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