WE ALL KNOW the importance of building relationships with our clients as a prelude to winning business and seeing it grow. We attend seminars, read extensively and even participate in day-long training programmes on the subject. Management teams hold lengthy strategy sessions to devise better ways of ensuring long-term relationships exist, and that sales personnel develop them proactively.
The goal is to become a “trusted adviser” because it is much easier to sell to a client when you have this perceived status than if you do not. Companies therefore spend countless hours and dollars to build stronger relationships, all with the basic aim of increasing revenue and enhancing profitability.
If this strategy works so well with clients, it surely makes perfect sense to apply it within the organisation as well. The terminology might have to be adapted slightly, but the key concept of building rapport should remain the same. Building rapport with internal stakeholders can have as much impact as developing long-term relationships with clients. The results are a better working environment, enhanced communication, increased productivity and reduced costs.
Rapport is a word that is often used but, it appears, is not always fully understood. Simply put, it is a matter of reducing differences or friction at a subconscious level. Extensive research shows that people who can establish a high degree of rapport when communicating will adapt to the extent of using body positions, gestures and rhythms of speech like those of the person they are talking to.
They will adopt similar facial expressions, and even adjust their tone of voice and choice of words. They have the ability to tune out distractions and concentrate fully on the other person. When this happens, it is much easier to create understanding and exert influence.
While some individuals do this instinctively, there are also certain techniques that can be learned. The objective, though, should never be to manipulate the other person, but to establish a bond of trust, which allows open communication to take place. The following tips may help you build better rapport in the workplace.
Adapt your rate of breathing, level of energy and vocal tone to match those of your counterpart.
It is easy enough to imagine how you would feel if you were explaining a new business initiative to a colleague who showed few signs of interest or enthusiasm. There would obviously be no rapport.
So, if someone is conveying a sense of excitement during a conversation, show that you are excited as well. If they are talking quickly, do the same. Alternatively, if they are calm, relaxed or conservative in their approach, reflect this in your own behaviour.
This is all about adopting the same basic body attitude and position as the other person. If they lean forward when talking to you, do not do the opposite by shifting back in your chair. Mirror their position by leaning forward as well. This will make it clear you are engaged in the conversation as an equal and not nervous, disinterested or feeling dominated, which leaning back might imply.
Mirroring is not copying. If your manager has his feet on the desk, do not follow that example, but do adopt a position that shows you are similarly relaxed.
Probing and listening
Other people are likely to be well-disposed if you talk about what is important to them, not your own concerns. Make them feel important by asking questions which show you are interested in them and what they do. In doing this, you should demonstrate the ability to discuss any issues as an equal. You should avoid putting a string of questions which are just about filling in gaps in your own knowledge. This simply focuses the conversation exclusively on your needs. Also, you have to listen to what is said and how it is said. Listen as carefully as possible and remember that, in establishing rapport, it pays to listen more than you talk.
Give the other person your full attention. You should hear and feel their whole message and its meaning. Make it clear that you are paying attention by using words of encouragement and positive body language. Maintain eye contact because people quickly pick up signs of apparent distraction. In the end, if you can make someone else feel important they will feel closer to you and be prepared to talk more.
Adapting your style
In character terms, if your counterpart is expressive, amiable, analytical or a driver, show the appropriate degree of awareness of time, objectivity and urgency. You should aim to match their business style. Focus on providing the information, level of detail and degree of interest they expect.
With an expressive person feed their ego, let them talk and be passionate about your opinions. With someone who is amiable, respect their need for consensus and consider the impact of your ideas. With an analytical individual, discuss all the options and work towards a logical conclusion.
Managing your impression
In building rapport, the first impression is vital to ensure you get off on the right foot. Remember how much people are influenced by their initial impressions and that these are hard to change. In a first encounter, someone will be forming impressions about you consciously or subconsciously by observing the way you dress, your gestures, posture, facial expressions, voice, accent and choice of words.
Recognise that many factors go into creating an impression and that you can modify certain things to convey the desired message. If you appear professional, you will earn more respect, while the opposite is also true.
Effective rapport is much more than just starting a conversation with a couple of general questions to break the ice. It demands attention, time and judgment to build the best possible personal relationship.
There must also be trust, liking and respect, which are all critical to the influencing process. Being flexible and establishing rapport will help you develop, then continue to build a better relationship with your managers, peers and subordinates. It will also ensure that information is exchanged more readily among colleagues. In the end, you will find it much easier to influence people when you have good rapport with them.
TIPS TO WIN
The principle of consistency
Robert Cialdini’s fourth principle of influence is built on the belief that people, align, themselves with something to which they are committed. They are more willing to move in a particular direction if they see it as consistent with an existing belief or involvement. This is the Principle of Consistency. Therefore, get the person you are trying to influence to make a commitment which is active, public and voluntary. Research shows that most of us will stick to a position we have previously gone on record as supporting.
The implications for business are clear: get a commitment in writing. If you need employees to submit weekly reports, get them to send emails confirming this commitment. In this way, you will greatly increase the chance of getting the reports when required because, as a rule, people tend to do what they have committed themselves to in writing.
Listening without interrupting
When we are in social gatherings or just catching up with old friends, it is easy to stop listening and look for a break in the conversation, just so we can get our story or comment in. We tend to think about what we are going to say next, and do not really listen closely to the other person. Signs of this are the habit of finishing someone else's sentence, looking away, or giving various “hurry u” responses. We usually want to cap the other person's story, which is not conducive to building rapport, particularly in the business world. The best thing is to school yourself to listen without interrupting. Ask a question and allow time for a full answer. Do not jump right in with a comment. Give the other person the chance to say what they want to and provide insights into their guiding values.
What has the greatest impact on the way your colleagues make certain decisions in the workplace? It is their past business experience. This includes the companies they have worked for, their previous jobs and responsibilities, and even their former managers. Business experience is the sum total of everything that has gone before - the good and the bad, the successes, disasters, frustrations and achievements. Some will be talked about openly; others will be only half-acknowledged and remain beneath the surface. The key to influencing someone is to understand their past business experiences, so you can position requests, ideas or initiatives in ways that rule more easily accepted.