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Building Rapport

Many of the skills we develop in life are unconsciously fostered business skills. However, once we enter the world of work, our new surroundings can confuse our instincts, placing otherwise normal behaviours into the context of the “professional.”

This distinction can throw us off, putting unnecessary pressure on a situation as we try our best to navigate it perfectly. One such example of this is in the skill (or rather set of skills) known as rapport building.
This is essentially the ability to form relationships with people that have a steady foundation of understanding and communication. How this concept has applications more specifically for business differs from how we may think of it in everyday life. We tend to define our professional relationships differently to our personal relationships – and, therefore, act differently within them.
This makes sense as our relationships with clients, customers etc., can often be goal orientated. Though, research into rapport does seem to support a mind-set more in keeping with that of successful social interaction, as reflected by an article in the 2008 Journal of Retailing:

“A series of in-depth interviews with both consumers and service providers, Gremler and Gwinner (2000) examine two dimensions of rapport in commercial service encounters: (1) enjoyable interactions involving (2) personal connections between the participants.”

This research appears to demonstrate that feeling a personal connection is in many regards the clearest pathway to successful networking in the marketplace. The importance of everyday affability is further stressed in the article:

“Rapport is higher in interactions in which the participants are interested in each other and share a feeling of caring or friendliness.”

Studies such as this bring new meaning to the virtuous business notion of ‘the personal touch’ and carry the lesson with them that you should be aware of rapport building behaviours when communicating with everyone, from customers to fellow business owners.
Bearing this in mind, it is useful to know some common practices and considerations recommended specifically for creating and maintaining long lasting rapport:
The first one is rather simple: your appearance. To elaborate, dressing in a way that is appropriate for the encounter. In a professional context this would typically mean dressing smart, with it being better to be overdressed than underdressed.
Another tip to help build rapport is to find common ground. This can be achieved through small talk and by showing a genuine interest in the other person. The more you do this, the more likely a person is to open up and start talking about themselves – from there you can start building connections. This will also open up other avenues of conversation that may be explored some time in the future, so it’s important to pay attention and remain engaged throughout.
For rapport to grow deeper over time it helps to create shared experiences with people in your network that you would like to get to know better. In the business world, this could mean working together towards a common goal. This kind of collaboration inevitably brings people closer, leading to a reliable network you know you can trust. Another way to achieve this is, if the opportunity to work together does not arise, to attend the same conference as that person. Being a part of people’s memories, providing you didn’t behave terribly, should mean you’re more likely to pop into their heads again, perhaps when new and exciting opportunities appear.
Lastly, it is important to act with empathy. Some movies and popular culture cast the marketplace in the light of a breeding ground for manipulation, but, whilst there can be a presence of dishonesty, the majority of people are just hoping to succeed. Be aware of this. Learn what makes a person tick and you can respond to them with intelligence and curiosity. Asking open ended questions will give them room to talk and from this you may infer their feelings. Be cognisant of these moving forward in order to ensure good communication and a successful working relationship. Oftentimes, being able to see things from another person’s perspective is undervalued but it can lead to some exciting conclusions you wouldn’t have stumbled across on your own.
So there you have it. This is all fairly basic stuff but it’s good to keep in mind when interacting in the world of work. Remember to be culturally appropriate, smile, be polite and try to relax – things one would be advised to do in everyday life, no less. It’s important to remember that business relationships may not be like those we have outside of work, but that doesn’t mean they don’t benefit from many of the same considerations when it comes to maintaining them. Remember to strike this balance and you’ll be out there with all the movers and shakers in no time.


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