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Rapport – an introduction to the interpersonal circumplex

An 'expert' introduces rapport
TEACHER: The interpersonal circumplex is a really old idea. It was developed in the 1950s by Tim Leary. And it’s basically just a way of visibly representing the interactions that take place between people, all sorts of different people, whether it be doctors and their patients, whether it be police and suspects. It’s even been used with primates to characterise their interactions as well. And it’s based on a simple circular structure. And that is intersected by two different axes. The first axis runs from dominance to submission. And the important thing about this axis is whatever you give, you invite the opposite response. So say I’m being dominant in conversation in a lecture theatre, for example.
I’m giving a lecture, and it’s to a crowded room. Me talking all the time and dominating the conversation invites submission from the people listening. Likewise, if I’m having a conversation with someone and it’s like pulling teeth– they don’t seem to want to talk to me or make eye contact with me– they’re in a submissive position. And what that makes us want to do is to actually be dominant in response. So we start to fill the silences. So whatever you give on this axis, you get the opposite back. Now, the second axis runs across the way from hostility through to cooperation. And importantly, it works in a different way.
So what you find with this axis is hostility invites hostility, and cooperation invites cooperation. So it works slightly differently. So whatever you give, you get the same in return. And we can probably all relate to this from our own personal relationships. You come downstairs, and you’re a bit grumpy in the morning with a family member. And they’re grumpy in return because you get hostility inviting hostility. Likewise, when someone is really kind to you, it’s incredibly hard not to be cooperative back to them. Now, we can use this to plot interactions. So for example, we would plot neutral behaviour towards the centre of the circle, but more intense behaviour towards the edges of the circle.
So say someone was being intensely cooperative, we’d mark them around here. But we can also use the principles of a circle to plan behaviours. So say, for example, I want my dinner making this evening. And I would need the person to be cooperative and slightly submissive in order to achieve that. So we’ll mark them there. How would I get them to do it? Well, we know that to get cooperation you need to give cooperation. So we know I would need to be on this side of the circle. But we also know that to get submission we need to be dominant. So I would be plotted somewhere around here.
I would need to plan to be slightly dominant and cooperative in my approach to put the other person around here. Now, what’s really interesting about the circle is people don’t unpredictably move from one area to another. They move around the circle in quite predictable ways. And, also, the circle in many ways characterises what naturally happens, our natural reactions. But we can control those reactions. Now, I’m going to be adding some more complexity to this model later on in the course. But this gives you the underlying principles.

Linked to the ideas of Holmberg and Christianson (2002), other psychologists have developed the notion that similar principles might be important in building a rapport with, and relating to, other people. One such model is called the interpersonal circle.

The interpersonal circle has a long history in psychology. In the 1950s, Tim Leary (1957) developed this model as a way to visually represent the interactions between people.

In the video, Dr Zoë Walkington introduces you to the principles of the model.

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