Under normal circumstances, when you want to make a request for someone to do something for you and you get on well with them, you tend to have a chat with them before you ask them for what you want. Then your request flows naturally out of your conversation with them. With people you do not like or who you do not know, you often do not bother to do this.
However, taking time to get to know people or find out more about them on a personal level through building rapport and superficial conversation ‘oils the wheels’ of social interaction. If you only learn and apply this one skill and none of the others outlined in this book, you would find your confidence increase significantly.
Building rapport works on many levels. When done successfully, it gives you so many more choices. It enables you to walk into a room of complete strangers and be relaxed about striking up a conversation with any of them, whoever they are. It also lets you know when it is a good time to approach people and when to back off or come back later.
When it comes to making social conversation, people are all different. Some people live in a world that I might find superficial and only want to talk about football, golf, shoes or shopping. Others only relax when they feel comfortable with people. Some people think that if they are not talking about world peace, they are not having a meaningful conversation. Social conversation is a great leveller; it opens up your choices of interaction and increases your ability to build rapport and influence people substantially. If you exclude people who are not like you from your circle of influence, you will be excluding a vast proportion of the population. Given the opportunity – and approached in the right way – these people may want to get to know you better and to assist you in achieving your goals.
Another reason to be able to employ the full spectrum of conversational skills is that if you only like deep and meaningful conversation (and plenty of people do), you significantly limit the range of people and situations in which you will feel relaxed and confident. Suppose you met someone socially and you thoroughly enjoy your engagement with them at a deep level. You feel stimulated by your discussion and you look forward to seeing them another time. The problem arises when you meet that person again. It could be embarrassing and somehow inappropriate to restart the conversation where you left off. Social conversation enables you to re-engage with that person at an appropriate place, so that you can find a comfortable level for both of you again as soon as possible.
Many people are very resistant to learning to build rapport, because they dislike superficial conversation. If you are one of those, let me try to persuade you to learn this skill. If you only like meaningful conversation, you will not be able to include in your circle of influence all those people who only engage in meaningful conversation once they are relaxed with you. Equally, the people who mostly like to talk about what was on TV last night or who won the football at the weekend, just prefer to live in a more superficial world whereas you might prefer to live in a deeper one.
Two people in particular influenced my thinking on this. Both were on my courses at separate times. I noticed how they could charm other course members and get them talking. Curious and interested, I asked them how they did this. One said, ‘I was a hairdresser and you just have to find a way of quickly connecting with your clients’ and the other simply said, ‘My mother taught me’. These replies made me realise that the charm displayed by these two people was a skill that could be learnt. I asked them what they did to build rapport. What struck me was that both of them were very conscious of using this skill. They believed that everyone had something that they really loved to talk about and the art was to find that seam of passion. So they believed that it is possible to make a connection with everyone, you just have to find that place of connection.
‘Oh,’ but I hear you say, ‘ I am just not interested in people’s holidays and families and I just can’t make myself appear interested.’ I know you might be saying that, because I have heard the same response so many times. I used to be very much like that too, until I discovered the fascinating experience of building rapport. If you are one of those people who dislikes social conversation, the skill is to learn to love the process, not the content – to realise that it is possible to develop the skills which enable you to build that bridge between you and another person.
I believe we are social animals, living in an increasingly dehumanising society. If you do not agree with me, look at call centres or using websites or texting, instead of meeting someone face-to-face or using the phone. Given these changes in the way we interact these days, is it any wonder that when people ask us an ‘off script’ question about ourselves, we might hesitate to say something real and meaningful, unless we are really sure that they want to know? So you might have to try a few times to build rapport before the other person genuinely believes that you are interested in them and what they have to say
The strange thing is that once you are able to make a connection with someone, they will find it energising to talk about things they find of interest. You may then begin to get more interested in them and what they have to say even at a superficial level.
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.
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