It’s a phrase you’ve heard before, but what is rapport building?
Let’s talk about this intangible but utterly vital skill.
See Related: 8 Reasons to Stay Calm Under Pressure
First, let’s define “rapport.”
Merriam-Webster defines “rapport” as “a friendly, harmonious relationship.” It basically means getting along with people!
So, rapport building is the skill of developing harmonious relationships. You are probably building rapport every day. When? Collaborating with new colleagues, bonding with your intramural softball team, making new friends at brewery trivia.
Think of building rapport as a relationship-themed mosaic art piece.
From far away, it looks seamless. Up close, however, it is comprised of many little pieces.
Today, I want to talk about those little pieces that make building rapport what it is.
#1: Establishing Connections and Relationships
Building rapport means building strong relationships. We do this for many reasons:
When you get along with people, your day is brighter and easier.
Imagine going into an office every day and seeing people with whom you just don’t… gel.
You feel uncomfortable approaching their desks. You feel coldness from them when you make a suggestion. You breathe a sigh of relief every day when the clock strikes 5pm.
Now, imagine working with a group of people you enjoy!
You’ve asked about their work styles, so you know the best ways to approach them. You bond over mutual interests in visual art and Italian food. So your communication is about more than just work. You laugh every day. You’re happy to head home at 5pm, but you are looking forward to seeing these people tomorrow.
The time you’ve spent building rapport with your coworkers helped you become friendly. Now, your office environment is welcoming and upbeat!
Community and Safety
It may sound odd, but building rapport is a life survival skill. Who do you call on in the case of an emergency? Chances are, it’s someone with whom you have built rapport.
- Maybe your next door neighbors have a key to your home, just in case you get locked out.
- Maybe your kids call your best friend from college if they need help and can’t reach you.
The reason you have these people is because you’ve built rapport with them.
When you build relationships, you build community. People you can trust and depend on in times of need. People who make you feel like you belong.
On your first day of work, you begin to establish rapport with your supervisor.
You learn about their background and what brought them to this company. You ask about their family and hobbies.
Through these conversations, you and your supervisor develop a connection.
As time goes on, they think of you for more projects because they like working with you. You begin to get more opportunities, bigger projects. Before long, you are getting promoted!
All of this can happen if you build rapport with people at work.
- Have conversations.
- Make your goals and interests known.
- Get to know your supervisors and colleagues.
It makes it easier for them to think of you when opportunities arise.
#2: Active and Passive Communication
I like to think of building rapport like creating a recipe. There are many ingredients you can use to create your signature style.
Let’s talk about some of the ingredients you can throw into the pot:
Rapport Building Questions
I think asking questions is the easiest and most effective way to begin building rapport. It demonstrates that you care about the person’s point of view.
Rather than yes or no questions, ask open ended questions that invite meaningful conversations. Here are a few ideas:
- Who is someone in your life that inspires you?
- Where would you love to travel?
- What is a talent or hobby you have that would surprise people?
- What is a movie or TV show you saw that really impacted you?
Initial conversations don’t need to be superficial. They can help you identify a common interest. That interest can be the foundation for really good rapport.
Bonding over common interests
Okay, you’ve asked rapport building questions and identified some common interests.
Go have some fun!
Solidify the common ground you’ve found by engaging in shared hobbies together.
- Scout out the newest brewery in town.
- Invite them to play in your intramural soccer league’s game on Sunday.
- Spend the afternoon knitting and chatting over chamomile tea.
Whatever floats your boat!
The reason shared experiences are so powerful is because you create memories. You start to associate people with these memories. If the memories are positive, the associations are positive.
Rapport building can take place at work.
Maybe you are a manger looking to strengthen relationships amongst your staff. You feel the work environment could be more friendly and positive. And of course, when employees are happy, it’s good for business.
Arrange social events for your employees. Give them time to get to know each other outside of team meetings.
However, be careful not to make this feel like forced bonding. Building rapport needs to happen naturally. All you can do is create the opportunity for that to happen.
- Don’t require employees to stay late; arrange an enjoyable event on paid time.
- Offer activities with a personal twist – “get to know you” bingo, guessing whose baby photo is whose.
- Put conversation starter cards on the tables. That way, people don’t need to grasp at straws for communication topics. You’ll have saved time spent dealing with awkwardness.
- Have food! Building rapport is always easier over food.
Okay, but does rapport building need to involve… talking?
Actually, no! There are many ways to build rapport that don’t involve saying a word. Let’s talk about them.
The art of active listening
Active listening means fully paying attention while listening to someone speak. It means being invested in what they are saying.
And everyone needs to do it. Even in my role as an event emcee, I have to actively listen to clients, audience members, and more.
It can be pretty difficult to listen actively. There are lots of distractions! The view out the window, the sound of colleagues talking down the hall. Your own thoughts.
But if you actively listen, a few things will happen:
- You will learn about that person’s perspective in a deeper way.
- You will be more likely to remember what they have said to you.
- You will be more likely to find common ground and build trust.
Becoming an active listener takes intentionality. Until it becomes second nature, you will need to practice! Before entering into a conversation, set your intention.
- I will actively listen.
- I will learn about this person.
- I am curious about them.
- I care about what this person has to say.
The importance of body language
Ursula (from The Little Mermaid) was right! Body language is an essential part of building rapport.
Your body movements say a lot. Here are a few examples of what I mean:
- Your hands are crossed over your chest while someone speaks to you. This may communicate that you are disinterested and uncomfortable.
- You avoid eye contact with the person. This may communicate that you would rather be doing something else right now.
- You don’t face the person head-on. Instead, you are shifting and facing other directions. This may communicate that speaking with them is not your focus.
How do you think all of this makes the other person feel? Probably not too good. Have some empathy when you try to establish rapport.
Instead, let’s use body language and facial expressions to build good rapport!
- Maintain good posture. It shows that you are engaged in the conversation.
- Keep your facial expressions focused on the person with whom you are speaking. If they say something important and your face doesn’t change, it’s pretty clear you weren’t listening.
- Have approachable body language. Keep your arms loose and open. Face the person directly. Look them in the eyes when they speak. All of this communicates, “I care about what you are saying.”
All of this helps you establish a two way connection. If you are a good listener for them, they will want to be the same for you.
#3: Flexibility and Vulnerability
Let’s get honest here: developing rapport can be a scary process. Even if you’re acting as a master of ceremonies. This is because it takes vulnerability – you have to open up to people.
Remember what we said about active listening? It’s a vital part of connecting with others. But in order to build rapport, all parties involved need to open up. It’s a two-way street.
Here are my tips to help you design strategies for getting comfortable with vulnerability:
Think of it as a learned skill
When you learn skills in school or at work, it’s sort of… clinical.
If it helps, think of getting vulnerable similarly. It’s a tool you are developing to improve your communication skills. It requires that you feel uncomfortable sometimes, but that goes for any new skill!
It is an exciting opportunity
To develop rapport, you need enthusiasm about connecting with others. Vulnerability will help you form those connections!
If you feel nervous to strike up conversation with someone, think of the great outcomes that could happen:
- You might make a new friend.
- You might learn something amazing from this person.
- You might get ahead in your business.
The possibilities are endless!
You get what you give
Demonstrate a willingness to listen to the other person’s needs, and they will do so for you. You may not want to open up right now. But there will come a day when you need support in the same way you’ve helped others.
Let’s Wrap This Up!
I hope this blog has given you a solid foundation for building rapport. Luckily, you have unlimited access to online tools to hone your skills.
Let’s review what rapport building is:
#1: Establishing connections and relationships
#2: Active and passive communication
#3: Flexibility and vulnerability
You are on your way to creating rapport like a pro!
Keep Reading: The Basics of Building Rapport
Adam Christing has been called “The Tom Brady of emcees.” He has hosted more than 1,000 company meetings, special events, gala celebrations, and more. He is the author of several books and founder of CleanComedians.com. For more event tips, follow Adam Christing on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and YouTube.