If you google “how to build rapport” you’ll find thousands of tips like:
- mirroring behavior
- make eye contact
- repeat the person’s name to them
Not to dismiss their potential effectiveness, but these are “tricks.” Real rapport develops when you value the needs of others.
It comes from a heart-felt choice to treat people well, from a deep-seated philosophy that governs your approach to relationships.
Some people choose to apply rapport as a means to accomplish their own ends, whereas others naturally build rapport because they truly respect and value the needs of others.
We can instinctively feel the difference when we encounter someone who is genuinely interested in us as opposed to someone who has an ulterior motive.
A TALE OF REAL RAPPORT
Peter, a CEO with a distinguished career in the British Special Forces, described to me his experiences with two talented superior officers.
Jim was a strictly by-the-book officer, studiously following every rule. Equally talented Mick, friendly and laid-back, would brighten a room when he walked in the door.
Mick’s soldiers respected him for his military skill but also for his innate humanity, his knack for making them feel valued.
Jim’s soldiers, while respecting his military skills, attributed his success to self-serving interests. Something about him never felt genuine, never quite real. Adding insult to injury, Jim was oblivious to his men’s perceptions.
Jim and Mick went through the grueling Special Forces selection process at around the same time, and both performed superbly well on the physical aspects of the role. But when interviewers weighed the candidates’ personalities, Mick passed and Jim failed.
As Peter offered, “Which one would you rather be working with if it hits the fan? Someone whom you know has your back 100 percent or someone who seems like he’s only out for himself?”
Even in the military, where every recruit must follow orders, the best leaders build rapport and exercise tremendous influence. As the old adage goes, “Attitude reflects leadership.”
OUR BRAINS KNOW RAPPORT WHEN THEY SEE IT
Scientists believe that oxytocin, a neurotransmitter and hormone, plays a major role in prompting empathy, trust, compassion, and generosity, to name just a few human traits. They have nicknamed it the “bonding” hormone.
We are wired to trust each other, but life experience can shift us away from that natural tendency.
When we feel safe and nurtured in our relationships and environments, the release of more oxytocin supports our ability to trust others. When we feel unsafe and disregarded, a lower level of oxytocin diminishes our ability to trust others.
When we are in the presence of a leader with integrity, one who is honest and trustworthy we respond positively on a neurochemical level.
BUILDING REAL RAPPORT
1. CREATE A COLLABORATIVE ENVIRONMENT
Try to create a safe culture where people freely ask for help and never fear making a mistake.
Stress that no idea is too silly or dumb to present in a meeting. Be sure to give a voice to those who don’t naturally take the floor.
Research has shown that those who take the floor with ease and talk confidently are perceived as knowledgeable when it might be the introvert in the room who possesses the information that’s needed.
Replace the typical unconscious behavior everyone tends to rely on to get through the day with heightened social awareness, what is called a “relational philosophy.”
It means thinking of others every time you interact with them, not just some of the time.
Recognize, value, and rewards people’s strengths. Promote critical thinking, innovation, and creativity.
When interacting with your team or anyone, try to be as in the moment as possible. It makes a world of difference for building trust and activating oxytocin.
Some helpful tips:
- Remain visible, present, and open to all feedback.
- Model the attitudes and behaviors you expect of others.
- Create and maintain a culture of pure transparency.
- Stress how every job fits into the organization’s strategy and goals.
- Follow through on promises and commitments and all psychological contracts.
- Welcome and share input, feedback, and ideas from all levels.
Your people will notice if/when you recognize, value, and reward.
Leaders who consciously, truly, and sincerely wish to relate to their people must actively listen to them before they themselves speak.
Remember the 2-to-1 ratio of ears to mouth:
listen at least twice as much as you talk.
Turn off the voice in your head that constantly makes assumptions, judges the speaker, and contemplates what you will say next.
Don’t finish the other person’s sentences or interrupt their train of thought.
3. CHECK YOUR BODY LANGUAGE
As a leader, you must pay close attention to body language, both your own and those of your people.
Examples of closed-off body language:
- crossed arms
- crossed legs
- jittery body movements
- monotonous or bored tone of voice
- diverted eyes
- preoccupation with surroundings or a handheld device.
Examples of open body language:
- leaning toward you
- body still and in an attentive posture
- natural gestures
- open tone
- good eye contact
- open arms
- no preoccupation with surroundings or a smartphone
A skilled influencer recognizes that her greatest power stems from the sincerity and genuineness of her relationships, which spring from a conscious decision to embrace a life philosophy based on how she interacts with people rather than what she can get from people.
A good boss cannot act like everybody’s best friend, but they can relate to people in a way that engages them to do their best work.
If you focus on treating your people with kindness and respect, and let them know that you value them and their work, you will receive the same in return.
Your influence will grow, and so will your personal and business success.