How do you start with building rapport? Well, find something about the person that you like or something that is worthy of comment, for example their football team, haircut, car, tie, shoes or pen and just start from there. Really, you can say just about anything, as long as it is not important or serious – you are simply giving out the signal that you are open for conversation. Then ask a couple of questions about the person, and if they respond well, you might like to introduce yourself. Unless you are just practising at a bus stop, see it as a long-term goal, not a one-off conversation. Build on anything that you have found out about the person the next time you meet them.
Also, be prepared to give other people what is called ‘free information’ about yourself in order to build rapport, otherwise it can feel very one-sided. Free information should include those topics of conversation, which you are comfortable sharing with others. Make a list of things you like to talk about socially and chat about them when encouraged to do so by others. We all have hidden shallows, and building rapport is both a time to discover the other person’s and to reveal yours. One of my clients uses a mug with his football team’s logo on it. It does not take much imagination to work out how many superficial – or even not so superficial – conversations that this small rapport-building device has started.
Here is another example of building rapport in a real situation. I was running a course and a participant walked in. It was clear that she was very angry. Before coming into the training room, she perceived that a work colleague had been rude to her on the phone. Throughout the workshop she interspersed all her comments with: ‘I think I deserve an apology. Don’t you think I deserve an apology?’. By the afternoon break she was still annoyed and was still going on about wanting an apology. Although I explained the power of building rapport during the workshop, she was so preoccupied with her thoughts that I did not imagine that she had even been listening.
During the afternoon break, she went down to the department and started building rapport with the woman concerned. She said she found it incredibly difficult because of her anger, and was annoyed because she had to listen to the woman talking about her cold and how ill she felt. After she had listened to her for about 10 minutes, the woman turned to her and said, ‘I am so sorry for snapping at you earlier, I just was not feeling well’. She had achieved her apology without really trying. If she had tackled the problem head on from an angry position, it is likely that she would have made the situation worse.
Of course, some people are notoriously difficult to get to know, so respect their boundaries and develop your skills with other people before approaching them. Remember, though, that these people may keep everyone at a distance and may feel very isolated. If you do try to build rapport with them, do it in a way that suits them and take your time. They may be particularly appreciative of your efforts – even though they may not show it immediately.
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 Eevolution Handbook published by Global Professional Publishing.
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