Think about how many people you meet on a regular basis, whether it be through school or work. Now think about how many relationships – both long-term and short-term – that you create and maintain.
Rapport is defined as a working relationship characterized by mutual respect and understanding. It’s a professional connection, and a skill that most professionals draw upon each and every day.
While you don’t have to be “BFFs” with everyone you meet, it’s important to know how important it is to establish a rapport with the individuals you frequently come into contact with. Some obvious examples are your colleagues and classmates, your manager and professor – but this skill can extend to customers you meet at your part-time job, potential employers at a job interview, and more.
Why is rapport important?
Imagine asking someone – a professor, a supervisor, a colleague – to write you a reference letter. Ideally, you would want a letter written by an individual with whom you have a strong relationship, thus making them fit to discuss your qualifications and character.
Reference letters are only one example of why building rapport is important. It’s an opportunity to present yourself as a professional and build a connection that will benefit both yourself and the individual that you are working with. The payoff may happen right away, or it may take time to show the rewards, like with a reference letter.
In customer- and client-focused environments, such as a restaurant or a bank, rapport is what builds customer and client loyalty. The product may be what first draws the person in, but the service they receive will be the deciding factor in whether they return. By establishing a rapport with clients, they become happy regulars, which will contribute towards securing the business.
The thing is, you never know when a relationship with an individual will pay off. So being able to build rapport with anyone that comes your way is incredibly useful because you virtually have nothing to lose. Building rapport is not mercenary or selfish, and any interaction with another person is an opportunity – that being said, you also need to be open to helping others when initiating a connection. In an ideal world, anyone you come into frequent contact with, you should endeavour to build a friendly relationship with.
Why do people find building rapport difficult?
Yes, building rapport can be challenging. There are many different reasons people hesitate to build connections – and most of these worries trace back to their inhibitions about themselves. It’s no secret that putting yourself out there in front of others can be nerve-wracking, whether it is on a large or small scale.
If you identify as an introvert, your shyness can be an obstacle to establishing a connection. A complete stranger is a scary unknown: you never know how they will react to your “Hello.” It’s easy to worry about things like making a poor introduction and mispronouncing their name.
Perhaps you are out of your element. Talking with someone about a topic that you’re unfamiliar with can bring you out of your comfort zone. People often worry about how they’re dressed, how they’re delivering their conversations, how their contact is perceiving them. And that makes it difficult to focus on the situation at hand.
At large networking events or conferences, it’s easy to meet dozens of people at a time. It is perfectly understandable if you forget some names, but it doesn’t ever feel like it when you’re meeting them again, and you’re having trouble placing their face and name.
In short, people find building rapport challenging because they are fixated on themselves. It’s human nature – and we often forget that we are our own worst critic when it comes to social situations. But there are ways to conquer self-consciousness!
So, how do I build rapport?
The good news is, you can build rapport without provoking responses like, “Did you get a personality transplant?” If you are conducting yourself in a courteous, professional manner, you are already building rapport.
Rapport is an investment of time and effort: you cannot expect to create a meaningful connection in the span of a week or even a month. To improve your rapport-building skills, consider the following:
1. Be friendly.
You don’t have to be the social butterfly with five hundred Facebook friends, but it never hurts to be nice. If you’re shy, start with just one person, introduce yourself and never ask the other person about something you are not willing to share. The most important part is to be genuine… don’t try to assume a false personality. That is the foundation of a good relationship—and all it requires of you is a bit of bravery and a smile.
2. Be helpful.
Don’t feel like you are making this connection in order to leech off of their assets. If you present yourself as someone who is open to helping others when they are in a bind (and you are willing to follow through), it becomes a win-win situation for both of you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – adversity helps build rapport, especially if it is faced and conquered together. Lend a hand as often as you can, and when you inevitably need help, rest assured you won’t be considered bothersome.
3. Be a team player.
Your own success is important, but if you are working in a group, the success of your team should be one of your priorities. The old saying goes that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link – and you do not want to be that link. Building rapport in a team setting involves presenting yourself as an asset, and forging strong connections with your team members. Be sure to contribute and participate actively – this can mean anything from staying late with the others to finish a program due by midnight to taking a co-worker’s shift in an emergency.
4. Keep in touch.
LinkedIn is the de facto social media site for professional contacts, but Twitter and Facebook can also be used, if you ensure that your profile conveys a professional tone. Once you’ve met someone, don’t hesitate to add them. Never assume that the other person will make the first move and in professional circles, and don’t feel like your eagerness to maintain a relationship will be frowned upon – most professionals will be flattered, or even impressed, that you want to maintain a working relationship with them. Just be sure to follow up once in awhile to keep your connection going!