As I’ve said many times, unless you’re a hermit you cannot prudently ignore the impact of other people on your productivity and success. That’s why you’re never done seeking out and maintaining strong relationships.
A word that characterizes some of the strongest relationships is “rapport.” It refers to the condition in which people feel a great deal of trust, share important values or beliefs, and easily communicate about central matters.
All of us have felt rapport at various times with various people. Few of us would object to feeling it more often with more people.
Rapport generally emerges without conscious effort and cannot be manufactured at will. However, it is possible to learn and practice some specific behaviors that tend to provide fertile soil in which honest rapport may take seed and grow.
These behaviors include:
If you think commonalities are rare, just consider that with 23 people in a room there’s a 50-50 chance two of them will have the same birthday. With only 75 people present, that likelihood rises to 99.9%! And that’s just comparing for one immutable factor: your birthday. How much more common is, for example, an appreciation of the Beatles, Rihanna, or Michael Jackson?
The lesson here is this: the chance of you having something – anything! – in common with another person is much greater than you might guess. The world is literally full of possible commonalities. If you find one, you generate an immediate feeling of connectedness, which automatically sets the stage for building rapport.
Empathy is the ability to share another person’s thoughts and feelings. That’s a pretty solid commonality.
Some people are born with a strong empathic ability, but all of us can learn to pay more attention to another person’s situation and imagine ourselves in their shoes. What pressures are they under? What are they trying to accomplish? Most important: how are they feeling?
By regularly practicing empathy and thereby improving your empathic abilities, you become a person more likely to experience rapport with the other people in your work and life.
Communication can be thought of as the “information bridge” spanning the gap that inevitably exists between people.
Good communication is like a superhighway crossing a beautifully engineered information bridge. It makes building rapport relatively easy. But even bad communication enables some contact, although it functions more like a swaying rope bridge carrying minimal information. Rapport may not arise instantly in such conditions. But even a rope bridge can promote trust and lead to more expansive exchanges that strengthen communications and, ultimately, relationships.
To strengthen any particular “information bridge” between you and another person, use the primary tools for establishing good communication:
- Shake hands openly and firmly.
- Make frequent eye contact.
- Smile and nod during conversations.
- Maintain good posture.
- Ask open-ended questions that require more than a simple “yes” or “no” answer.
- Listen attentively to the other person. Note what they are saying, and also consider what they are NOT saying.
- Project sincerity by saying what you mean and meaning what you say. The time-honored joke about the value of “faking sincerity” is just that: a joke. It’s not an effective strategy for building rapport.
Take the Long View
As I suggested, sometimes rapport arises quickly and spontaneously, and before you know it you’re off to a great relationship with a relative stranger. But far more often, rapport takes a while to build. That’s why you should expect rapport to develop slowly. It grows only as you get to know the other person better, discover more commonalities, build trust, share experiences, learn and appreciate more about their thoughts and feelings, and build a stronger “information bridge” of communication.
To take the long view in building rapport:
- Don’t push too hard too soon toward an “in depth” relationship.
- Don’t jeopardize whatever trust and empathy you already have in hand.
- To gain trust, give trust. But heed the words of President Ronald Reagan: “Trust, but verify.”
- To dig a little deeper into the mind and heart of another person, let them dig a little deeper into yours.
- Relate with transparency and genuine concern. These are among the primary building blocks of rapport.
Enhancing your ability to build rapport with a wider range of people can significantly benefit your work and your life. People with whom you have a solid rapport are simply more willing to offer you exciting opportunities and maintain solid relationships over long periods of time.
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