Years ago, I was doing research on how we can more easily establish rapport with others. While I was working on developing my ideas, I took an airplane flight one day and had an interaction with the woman who sat next to me that served as a real lesson in relationship building. On the flight, I was passing the time by drawing and writing in my journal. The woman sitting next to me asked me what I was doing. I told her I was working on understanding how people develop rapport with others. The hour-long flight passed quickly as we talked about experiences and people we had encountered in our lives.
She was very open in sharing many of her personal challenges. She explained what it was like being run over by a disgruntled driver and what it was like to deal with the ensuing physical challenges and the many surgeries it took to repair her body. She shared how difficult it was for her to overcome her anger toward the man who ran over her. She told me of her search to find him, so she could understand why he would do such a thing and to ask for his forgiveness for the resentment and hate that she felt toward him. In short, I was amazed at the depth and personal details she shared with me during the course of our conversation.
As I reflected upon this humbling experience, I recognized that she had provided me with many practical insights in how to make connections with others. Here are eight suggestions you might find helpful as you work to develop rapport, trust, and understanding with others:
Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. If everything is about us, then we miss what is going on with others. You have to be willing to set aside your agenda, opinions, and judgments to connect with others. I like the adage, “Push creates push-back.” If you are aggressive and unrelenting in sharing your views, stories or experiences, you may miss what is going on with the other person. More often than not, your aggressive behavior only serves to create resistance in others.
We are too preoccupied with things around us (our phones, what we’re going to say next, what we’re going to do next, etc.) Turn off the phone and your to-do list and give the other person your full attention. Your goal should be to manage the time and space you to have to talk to people rather than allowing your activities or preoccupations to manage you.
The key to successful communication lies in what we do and how we behave, not just in what we say. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are subconsciously evaluating others’ behaviors. Our brain is making observations about volume, gestures, proximity, mood, tone, and eye contact in an attempt to ensure our survival. By noticing the outward behaviors and expressions of others and matching their tone, intensity, proximity, etc., the other person will naturally relax, viewing you as safe and trustworthy. We like people who make us comfortable – people much like ourselves.
People only know what they know. So when people are talking, they are telling you what they know – usually about themselves. If you listen intentionally and carefully, you will notice that they are telling you what is important to them or what they value. For example, if someone were to say, “I hate it when my co-workers don’t keep their commitments.” They just told you that they value people keeping their commitments. Listening to others creates an awareness of others as well as yourself.
Listen and acknowledge the ideas, values, accomplishments, and behavior of others. You might say things like, “I can see that is important to you,” or “I understand that ….” Even if you don’t agree with something the person is saying, you can still let them know you value what they have shared. Such a validating statement might sound like, “That’s interesting/fascinating/insightful. Can you tell me more about that?”
Ask questions that require a person to think about what you said and respond accordingly. Skilled conversationalists recognize that the other person is giving them the content for their next question. For example, if someone said, “Today was one of those days!” You might ask, “What happened that made it one of those days?” Notice that the person speaking offered the thread for a question to ask that will take the conversation deeper. Be sure to ask questions that people feel safe answering. Recognize that people generally like to talk about themselves, their ideas, experiences, and their lives.
When we are passionate about a topic, we tend to speak faster. We also speed up when we are delivering a difficult message. Slow down and let other people hear and absorb what you have to say. Speaking with natural pauses provides time for other people to think and reflect on what you are saying before they answer.
By telling people something about yourself, it invites them to tell you something about themselves. Once you open the door on a topic, the other person may feel comfortable enough to open the door wider and take the conversation to a level that you never expected.
There seems to be a general principle for creating connection and rapport in conversation. I often refer to this principle as the “Rule of Reciprocity.” What we give will be returned to us. Asking creates asking back; openness creates openness; attention creates attention, etc. Application of this principle requires that we set aside our thoughts, opinions, and agenda for a moment to hear and understand what the other person has to offer.
Give these strategies a try and see if they help you make better connections and increase your rapport with others.
What ideas do you have for making stronger connections and building rapport with others? What has worked well for you? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @JohnRStoker #BuildingRapport.