The ability to connect with others in a way that creates an environment of trust and understanding represents the cornerstone of building rapport. You can create this bond everywhere; no matter what industry you're in or what position you hold, or if you are on your first date. Knowing how to build rapport can bring you many opportunities both in your personal and professional life.
Creating a rapport with people starts from the very first interaction. This natural phenomenon is based on our instinct to avoid conflict most of the time and establish a positive connection. When you’ve created rapport, it can feel like you’re in “sync”, “on the same page” or you “hit it off” with another person. And when you’re out of rapport it can feel awkward and uncomfortable.
Some people simply have the intrinsic ability to connect and engage with others without much effort. The rest of us just need to be more deliberate in learning this so-called “loop of mutual influence”, just as we can learn and nurture any other skill.
What are the key rapport skills?
Being skilled at building rapport is demonstrated by a good understanding of someone and an ability to communicate well with them.
Learn how to stimulate rapport by following these simple but powerful strategies:
Create a positive first impression. Your very first interaction with other people matters a lot. Even when you are silent, you communicate definite messages with your body language and your personal style. You need to make sure these messages are the ones you want to put across. People form opinions based on physical appearance in the first seven seconds of contact. After that, any other information goes through the filter of the first impression which can be positive or negative. Make sure you stand out in a positive way by being well-groomed and dressed appropriately for the occasion.
Active listening. Give the person your full attention. Put your smartphone away, maintain eye contact, and don’t interrupt or think about how to respond while the person is still talking. People have a strong desire to feel heard and understood. Listening to what the other person says, without interrupting or being disrespectful, is going to accelerate rapport building. Summarize what the other person is saying from time to time, to ensure you understood them correctly.
Mirror and pace. Watch how the other person acts and interacts and match their verbal and non-verbal communication style. If they speak slowly, slow your speech down to match. If they speak quickly, try to keep up but don’t overdo it. Quick speech can sound jittery, not confident. If they lean in and nod as you speak, you could mirror that by acting in the same way. Just make sure you don’t do it too soon. Otherwise, it can seem as if you’re making fun of them.
Determine sensory preference. What words do they use? Listen carefully for words like see and look (visual), hear and listen (auditory), feel and sense (kinaesthetic), then adjust your communication to match theirs using statements like: “I can picture that”, “I hear what you’re saying” or “I feel that we’re on the same page”.
Smile and eye contact. Smiling makes you immediately more approachable and likeable. It has positive reinforcing feedback that is associated with happiness. When we see someone smiling, our brain begins searching its memory for what the expression could mean, but it also initiates a simulation of the expression, which can make us smile back. Also, try to maintain eye contact for approximately 70% of the time during the conversation as it shows that you’re actively listening and paying attention.
Show empathy. The ability to understand and identify with the feelings of another person is called empathy. This trait is a powerful tool for creating rapport and a fundamental requirement for building meaningful relationships. Whatever the situation, try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes when they’re describing how they feel. Show genuine empathy and use some of the supporting phrases like “I understand where you’re coming from”, or “If that happened to me, I would be upset too”. Sounds basic, but communicating with empathy makes others feel empowered and more willing to build a relationship with you.