Did you ever notice how sometimes you just “click” with some people, but not with others?

Over the years, I have become great friends with many of my clients. By the end of a project, I know exactly what they want and how to make them happy. But what if you could become close friends at the very beginning of the project? Wouldn’t a closer relationship right up front help you understand their desires better? How can we get to click with all of our clients?

I spent the first decade of my 30-year career in garden design focusing on being the best pool designer, contractor and garden artisan that I could. But I realized that I spent half my time working as an impromptu marriage counselor. Many clients are couples, and I often find the old adage “opposites attract” to be true. This sometimes leaves us designing a single project for two people with completely different ideas and preferences. It makes our jobs interesting.

How can we all get on the same page? We want to communicate with both personalities in their own preferred language.

Steal a chapter from the Therapists book

Professional therapists need to quickly bond with their clients and build rapport with a high level of trust to be effective at their jobs. Knowing this, I have stolen a chapter from their book — well, not just a chapter.

Actually, I have read a dozen books on the subjects of body language and neuro-linguistic programming to help me quickly become a better friend to my clients. Neuro-linguistic programming, or NLP, is actually a type of hypnotherapy developed by Dr. Richard Bander and Dr. John Grinder back in the 1970s. Understanding the basics of NLP will help you develop a better way to communicate directly with your clients and become friends fast.

People hire whom they like, and they like those who are similar to them.

Whether we like it or not, people decide how they feel about somebody within minutes of meeting them.

They will make this decision based on what they see and hear. When they like you, they subconsciously tend to see you in the best light, looking for opportunities to agree with you. If they don’t like you, the opposite is true.

Think back to high school: Remember all those cliques of people who hung out together? I think the saying goes, “Birds of a feather flock together.” Well, that remains true forever. We never really get out of that high school mentality. Think of your own close friends and the people you hang out with today. They probably are a lot like you, with similar interests, clothing styles, likes and dislikes.

Through NLP, we form a bond with a customer by relating to them where they are. It begins by understanding that we all have a preference in how we take in information. Some of us are more visual, some auditory and others kinesthetic. We give away our preference through the language that we use. Some examples:

- “Do you see what I’m saying?”

- “Do you hear what I mean?”

- “Do you understand what I’m getting at?”

Your answer may help determine if your personal preference is visual, auditory or kinesthetic.

Clues on language preference

To learn about our clients quickly, we should use the same words they do when they communicate with us.

But it starts by listening to them.

When meeting with clients, I go through an extensive design questionnaire with dozens of questions about entertaining needs, style preferences, spouse, etc.

Honestly, I already know the answers to most of these questions when I ask them. But through their answers, I am seeking information about whether the client is more visual, auditory or kinesthetic, so I can select and phrase the words I use accordingly. At the end of the meeting clients often say; “I just feel like we click.”

You can tell a potential client’s preference by listening well to the words they use when communicating with you. Keep them talking as much as possible. I realize this is contrary to the practice of many salespeople in our industry, who love to tout the benefits of their products and services. My advice: Shut up and listen. You’ll gain a ton of information and really learn how to service your client best. That strong relationship leads to better designs, happier clients, and more money for your firm.

People with a visual preference will say things like, “I know what I like when I see it,” “I have trouble visualizing,” and “Can you show me a picture?”

People with an auditory preference will say things like, “Tell me more about it,” “That sounds interesting,” “I love the sound of waterfalls,” or “As you said …”.

Kinesthetics will talk thoughtfully about the “feel of the yard.” They will say things such as, “I want a space that feels homey, or cozy,” or, “I like the ambiance of a fireplace.” They typically also talk with a lot of hand movements.

There are also eye charts that help you identify language preference by watching the client’s eye movement when they are speaking. Visual people often look up when they are explaining something, as if the information is somewhere up inside their head. Auditory preference is shown by side-to-side eye movement. And, finally, people with a kinesthetic language preference often look down and to the right (opposite for left handers).

Parrot back the words they use

If they want a spa, sell them a spa — don’t call it a hot tub.

I once saw a salesman correct a client who asked for a Jacuzzi. “What you mean is you want a hot tub,” they said. “Jacuzzi is just a brand name.” The potential customer’s body language shrank away, and you could tell the salesperson had made him feel stupid and embarrassed.

It was no surprise when the potential customer chose not to buy either a hot tub or a Jacuzzi on that particular day.

It’s not that people won’t understand what you are saying if you don’t speak in the identical manner of their preference. One time I heard a child say, “I’m thirsty for pizza.” I know what it means, but it required another step. On the other hand, when you do match a person’s language preference, the information is taken in directly to their subconscious, removing the step of translating into their own preferred language.

It’s very subtle, but it works.

Mirror, mirror on the wall

Rapport is a state of unconscious responsiveness.

When building rapport with new people you meet, try to match their tempo, tonality and speed at which they speak, in addition to their language. You will find yourself in sync with them: Subconsciously, they will see you as a friend, and people look for the best in those they like.

Match their physical movements as well. If a client puts her hand on her chin, mimic the behavior and put your hand on your chin. It might seem awkward at first, but you’ll get the hang of it quickly and it speaks to their subconscious. In their mind, you are a trusted friend.

Matching and mimicking behavior can be about how you dress too. Don’t show up to a business meeting wearing flip flops and a tank top. I try to remember what the clients were wearing at the last meeting and dress accordingly at the next.

There is a lot more to learn about NLP, body language and anchoring and I would encourage you to read some books on the subject. For more information and a deeper dive into this subject matter, attend my seminar at this year’s International Pool | Spa | Patio Deck Expo in Vegas on Thursday, Nov. 17, at 7:30 a.m. in Room W233.