Business Tips Articles

The 4 Keys to Building Rapport: Tearing Down the W.A.L.L.

Anytime you are communicating with people, your ability to create rapport is key to your success. As a manager, if there is a wall between you and the team, it is your responsibility to take the wall down as quickly as possible.

Two simple questions may help you realize whether or not you have built rapport or developed any form of relationship with your team members.

1) Have you spent time building a relationship with your team members?

2) Do you know what they like, want, and need at home and at work?

Don’t attempt to manage people with whom you have no relationship other than being “the boss.”

Establishing strong rapport does not mean learning everything about your customers’ or employees’ private lives, but rather showing them that you care about them and what is important to them.

In short, you must take down the W.A.L.L. between you and other people by developing your skills and maintaining focus on four key concepts:

1. Watch

2. Ask

3. Listen

4. Learn

W Is for Watch

Observe any master of rapport, and you will see a person who has a keen awareness of his or her surroundings, including other people and how they react.

When you enter into a rapport-building situation, your observation skills will help determine good starting points for your conversation. Before the first words are said, take a few seconds to take stock of the surroundings. If you are meeting someone in his or her home or office, look for conversation starters or anything that might create common ground. You might look for:

• Any item that is given a place of prominence

• Items on his or her desk and side tables

• Pictures

• Awards, memorabilia, or collectibles

If the person is coming into your office, you will have fewer clues so pay close attention to what your employee is looking at. When you notice that he or she is paying special attention to something, it may be a sign of a potential conversation starter.

Once engaged in a rapport-building conversation, your skill at observing the reactions of the other person will help you guide the conversation in the most productive direction. Pay close attention to his or her eyes, body positioning, and gestures.

As a word of caution, when you are observing people as part of rapport-building, never make an assessment based on a single sign. People are called individuals for a reason, and each will respond in his or her own way. Look for combinations of signs and signals and changes over the course of the conversation to understand more accurately how your employees are responding to you.

A Is for Ask

Asking powerful questions will provide you the most reliable way to create rapport. Beyond just asking powerful questions, having a strategy with preplanned questions frees you to focus more intently on the other person.

As you consider the questions you will use to build rapport, choose questions that will:

• Show you take an interest in them

• Build a relationship based on the needs of the other person

• Show your understanding of your area of expertise

• Gather important information to direct the conversation

By asking questions that show a genuine interest in the other person’s wants, needs, and interests, he or she is more likely to open up to you. If you have similar rapport-building situations on a regular basis, take the time to develop a question library that you draw from when building rapport.

A word of caution: During the rapport-building segment of a conversation, it is easy to slip into the “I” mode (i.e., telling the other person everything about what you do). Your objective is to get him or her into “I” mode.

Keep the rapport-building about them. They should be doing most of the talking.

L Is for Listen

You have asked your powerful questions, and now it is time to employ the most important rapport-building skill: listening.

So many professionals ask all the right questions, but they don’t really listen to the answers they are given. These professionals assume they are building rapport, but they forget to really listen:

• Intently to the words

• For changes in tone, volume, or speed

• For vocal cues for emotions like excited, contemplative, and annoyed

• For changes in vocal cue and body language

• For changes and correlations between words/vocal/body to establish base line responses

In addition to paying close attention to what the employee is saying, become an expert at listening to what is not being said in your rapport-building discussion.

There are two specific situations to be aware of: the one-word answers and intentional omissions and avoidance.

If you’re asking powerful questions and all you’re getting back are one-word answers, odds are you’re going down a track that the other person is not interested in pursuing.

In addition to single-words answers, it is not unusual for the other person to provide partial answers as he or she omits the details in an attempt to avoid complete disclosure. In many cases, the omitted information is exactly what you want to learn, but the person is not yet comfortable sharing. Make a quick mental note and find a way to come back to that point later in the discussion.

As a word of caution, rapport building should never feel like an interrogation. Remember that your objective is to get to know as much about the person by letting him or her know and feel that you care about what is in his or her best interest.

L Is for Learn

Learning how to build rapport is about trying things, watching and listening, observing the end result, and learning from it so that you adjust your approach the next time.

There’s no one right way or a magic process to building rapport, so it is important to learn what works for you and the situations you work in.

Become an active student of rapport building with these suggestions:

• Learn what works for you with different people and different situations

• Become more aware of how others react to you

• Try new approaches when encountering roadblocks

• Do a critical assessment after each attempt at rapport building

• Watch how others build rapport

Become a student of building rapport and over time you will see your ability to generate rapport will develop quickly and your success rate skyrocket.

About the Author:

Mark A. Vickers is a certified professional coach, a Gitomer Certified Advisor, and a certified world-class speaking coach. He is a communications consultant focused on helping people and organizations achieve excellence through improved communication and speaking skills. Vickers is known for creating and delivering specialized and innovative programs to help his clients. For more information, contact: Mark A. Vickers,

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