Most people think that being able to build rapport is just a way to while away some time on superficial conversation. In fact, building rapport is central to feeling confident and in control. It makes the difference between walking into a room, feeling scared and uncomfortable and being able to talk to anyone regardless of their seniority or background. It is a great leveller, and levels the playing field between the chief executive officer and the person who makes the tea.
From a business perspective, it also tells you when it’s a good idea to approach someone and when it would be a good time to make a request. If they don’t have the time to build rapport they probably don’t have the time to talk to you about the issues that concern you.
People often think that building rapport is a waste of time when in fact the reverse is the case. Building rapport builds the foundations of a healthy working relationships, particularly these days when everyone is so busy.
Let’s face it, people do things for people and they do things the people they like. So if you want people to do things for you, you must get to know them and then make your request at a level that is appropriate to your relationship.
Just think about it, someone is very busy and a person they don’t like or don’t know comes up to them and asks them to do something–they are likely to say something like ‘ leave it there I am very busy right now, I’m doing things in order and I will get to it as soon as I can’. However, if they like you they will say the equivalent of ‘ I am very busy right now but since it’s you give it here and I will do it as fast as I can’.
So if you want to be the person that people happily do things for, investing time and energy in building rapport is a good idea. But don’t just do it to get someone to do things for the now–see it as starting a longer-term relationship and see it as an opportunity to get to know the person a bit more. It will really pay dividends to you both further down the line.
Building rapport is about developing superficial conversation with people – showing an interest in their hobbies, favourite TV programmes, the football teams they support and asking about their family and friends, amongst other things.
‘Ah’, I hear you say ‘ but I don’t like superficial conversation – I only like talking to people when it has some meaning’. If this is the case for you, I sympathise because this was certainly true for me, you do however need to get over this reaction. If you don’t learn to do superficial conversation you will exclude everyone who just lives in a superficial world from your circle of influence. You will also exclude all those people who only go into deeper conversation when they feel relaxed and comfortable around you. Superficial conversation also gives you a safe place to pick up the conversation again when you have left some one after having a deep conversation with them. Somehow it seems highly inappropriate to pick up your discussion from where you left off, so superficial conversation and building rapport allows you both to re-engage with each other at an appropriate place before you decide to become deep and meaningful again.
If you’re one of these people who dislike social conversation and chitchat and really don’t want to hear about what is going on in the popular TV soap, my advice to you is to learn to love the process of building rapport rather than loving the content. See your challenge as engaging people in the topics that they are interested to talk about – we all have seams of passion, which we love to enthuse about if someone shows the interest and curiosity to tap into it and hear our experiences.
Once you learn to love the process not the content – you will gain satisfaction from finding and getting people to talk about their pet subjects. Then, rather curiously you will also get more interested in the latest scores of the football team, where to pick up the best bargain handbags and who was just fired on the Apprentice.
See building rapport and making superficial conversation as an art form and skill that can be learnt and appreciated. Then gain satisfaction from your increasing ability to engage people in subjects that they gain pleasure from talking about.
So how do you build rapport and how do you initiate the social conversation that usually forms the basis of long-term relationships?
I myself experienced the difficulty of building rapport with people, but was lucky enough to have two people on two separate courses who were able to put people at their ease immediately. I observed them simply charmed the group with their ability to build rapport. Interested, to find out how they did this I asked them both and their answers surprised me. One guy simply said ‘ my mother taught me how to do it’ and the other female member of the group said ‘ I used to be a hairdresser, and I learnt to talk to the customers and kept on asking them questions about themselves until I found the subjects that they were interested to talk about’. In this way I realised that what looks like charm to you and me is simply a set of rapport building skills that virtually anyone can learn.
Since that time, I have gone out of my way to learn how to build rapport and have taught thousands of people in coaching sessions and on courses to build rapport often with some remarkable results. In fact I have learnt that this is the single skill which makes the greatest contribution to people feeling more confident and relaxed about their ability to interact with other people. A Director of Finance who I coach, expressed the value of learning to build rapport like this
‘Walking into a room of strangers and being comfortable to speak.
I had to attend a conference dinner with an arranged seating plan. I was put on one of the top tables and not sitting next to my colleague. I knew I would have to actively engage in conversation with senior executives. I would normally shy away from this situation – doing anything to avoid it. Having used the techniques to build rapport, which I’m still learning, I felt confident in initiating conversation. After formal instructions, using the specific technique of having a conversation piece–‘rapport building device’; to use as a topic of conversation, I use my complicated, difficult to pronounce surname as a starting point – as a focus to break into informal conversation.
This then set me on a journey of increasing confidence to have normal conversation with those whom I would normally perceive to be out of my league professionally. Through this encounter I was able to make contacts to use in the future.’
This also helps me feel, I’m in control of the conversation at work because I can then make the judgement when it is a suitable point to bring up more ‘ heavy’ topics or approach a difficult conversation.
Rapport Building Tips
Here are some tips to help you build rapport and initiate social conversation.
- Be brave to start the process and realise that the other person may be as uncomfortable and inexperienced at building rapport as you are.
- Find something to comment on for example a photograph on their desk, a new haircut, a particularly unusual accessory or in one client’s case a mug from his favourite football team. Virtually anything will do if it starts a conversation and indicates a readiness to talk.
- See building rapport as a long-term process and not a one-off. If you manage to build rapport where none existed before it is your responsibility to keep this going not to drop the person like a hot stone when you have got your needs met.
- Remember what they have told you and comment on what they have said and asked them about it the next time you meet.
- Realise that the process of building rapport might feel very one-sided at least in the beginning.
- Remember people’s names and the names of their family, pets and friends if you can and refer to these the next time you meet them.
- Be prepared to ask people more than one question about themselves. It might take them a while to realise that you have a genuine interest in them and what they might say.
- Look for the seam passion we all have within ourselves, regarding subjects that we like to talk about and keep on asking questions until you find the topics of conversation that interest them. Their energy will go up significantly when you have identified this.
Respect people’s right to privacy and if they really don’t want to engage with you back off and maybe try another time or move on to someone else.
Sometimes the most grumpy people are responsive to your building rapport with them because so few people go out of their way to make this effort.
Finally, learn to enjoy the process and you will find ironically that you will also start to enjoy the content even though previously you would have thought talking about these topics to be a waste of time.
Learning to build rapport ‘oils the wheels’ of social conversation and will make you much more relaxed, comfortable and in control of virtually any business or personal situation.
For more information on assertiveness, influencing (including building rapport), negotiation, conciliation, taking a stand and making peace in a step-by-step manner please refer to the People Skills Revolution and the People Skills Revolution Handbook published by Global Professional Publishing.
Please note: The information contained in this blog is copyright and cannot be reproduced in any form whatsoever without the prior permission of the author who can be contacted through her website at solutionsunlimited.co.uk.