I hear
The nightingale greeting

I hear
The rain speaking to the roof
Of my heart.
Hafiz, Sufi poet
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What makes deep, lasting change possible?

The answer is simple: Safety.


So, where do we get a sense of safety from? Take a moment and imagine yourself as a gazelle on the African savanna. As long as all you see are other gazelles, all is well with your world. The moment something not-gazelle comes into your perception–it doesn’t matter much what it is: a lion or a suddenly moving stand of grasses–very little is well, and you run. And you run until your world is filled with gazelles and nothing but gazelles once again. Phew!


This is safety: the experience of being with “like kind.” Turns out we humans are much like the gazelles on the savanna. We also need the experience of being with “like kind” to feel safe. What creates that experience for humans? Ever had that sense of someone “being on the same page”? For most of us, there is a nice sense of relaxation that comes with being with that kind of person. We probably can’t put our finger on it, but when we turn inside we discover we can say, yes, I feel safe with this person. How’d that happen? And why doesn’t it happen with everyone?


Humans are a little more complex than gazelles, and it takes something else to provide that sense of safety. “Being on the same page” turns out to be something quite concrete in human interactions. As explained in my entry on “What is NLP?” the structure and meaning of human experience is created by our beliefs and ways of interpreting the world. One person unconsciously believes “Strangers are terrific,” and has that experience. Another person believes “Strangers are scary,” and has that experience. These differing experiences are a result of our personal “maps” of the world, which tell us what’s what about pretty much everything.


When, by chance, the maps between two people are quite similar, they experience a sense of being of “like kind,” which generates a deep experience of safety. Their ways of experiencing and understanding the world (and I am not talking here about conscious beliefs like a religion or a political party; they are very unconscious and generally hidden) let the deeper layers of their brains recognize, in a sense, a fellow gazelle, and all is well. And when that happens between a therapist and a client (or a teacher and a student, or a salesperson and a customer, or an employer and an employee), that shared map makes all kinds of powerful interactions possible. The therapist (teacher, salesperson, employer) has the ability to manifest their best skills in service to the other person. These are those magical “matches” in therapy that we have all heard of, and occasionally experienced.


But when two people who do not have much map overlap try to work together, a sense of unsafety or “lack of fit” predominates. The biggest changes all of us want in our lives–in work, in relationships, in our emotions–are in the areas of our lives that have been stabilized to create ongoing safety. The patterns that most do not work for us are those that our unconscious considers most vital for our ongoing survival. Attempting to change those patterns will feel very unsafe. Therefore, no one will do it with a practitioner who does not feel safe to us. Lack of map overlap makes it impossible for a therapist to manifest their greatest skills on behalf of the client. The client lacks sufficient safety to allow transformational changes to take place, through no fault of the therapist.


Rapport is the set of skills that creates map overlap no matter who the client may be. These turn out to be simple, learnable skills that with practice can be brought to help even the most nervous of clients feel safe enough to make changes that they are longing for in their lives.


Are you interested in rapport: How to do it or how it might help you make the changes you want in your life? Contact me for a 20 minute free consultation to learn more about NLP’s insights into our basic safety patterning and how we can work with it to enable enormous change.


Leslie Nipps, NLP & Change Work Practitioner

Trust as a Way of Life