Can rapport be too much of a good thing?

One dictionary definition of rapport describes it as a ‘sympathetic relationship or understanding’. However, relationships take time to develop. Sometimes I’ve seen rapport described as ‘trust + responsiveness’. I think this might be the view of many NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) practitioners.  One thing is certain; rapport is an important part of building a solid relationship based, ideally, on mutual respect and trust.

An evidence of rapport can be impressive, particularly when witnessed in a business pitch team (or for that matter, on a playing field type of pitch!). It comes across as a kind of ‘chemistry’ that’s hard to describe but very apparent. Almost tangible. If you think about a time when you’ve witnessed an impressive pitch, didn’t you notice a higher than average appearance of rapport between the members of the pitch team? It’s often what makes the difference between a good pitch and an outstanding one.

It is still, however, about communication and connection between individuals. Some of these will be people you work with in a short-term situation, such as as in a pitch or software development team. In other situations, there will be deeper  connections and longer term relationships that need to be built, such as with those people you work with on a daily basis. In essence, rapport is one of the building blocks of a good relationship.

It’s important to distinguish rapport from capitulating or acquiesing. It doesn’t always mean collaboration or cooperation. Rather, rapport implies a mutual understanding and a willingness to stand in someone else’s shoes. When we have good rapport with someone, we usually feel a connection, a being ‘in sync’ with them. It may be that you have things in common, whether that be more intangible elements like values and aspirations, or more concrete aspects of your life such as educational background, similar accomplishments or interests, or that your children attend the same school.

A word of caution! There are some behavioural or personality types that have little time for ‘rapport’. You know the ones I mean – we’ve all met them and you might be someone who saw the word ‘rapport’ and snorted at the thought of it. But we could all benefit from developing the ability to build rapport.  We deal with many different personality types in our business lives, whether colleagues, superiors, subordinates, suppliers or clients. Rapport is an invaluable social skill and it will alienate many people if you come across as having no empathy or ability to see another’s point of view.

The amiable and expressive types among us need to adapt our behaviour when dealing with someone who is curt or brusque. They don’t take time to ask how life is for you, whether that’s business or personal. It is often simply their behavioural style to get on with what they see is the business in hand. This is where the NLP principle of mirroring and matching a person’s behaviour comes into its own. Clearly, there are many aspects at play regarding who sets the tone of a conversation, and the minefield that is office politics, status and hierarchy. But this isn’t about constantly subordinating your own personality to someone else’s. It’s about reading a situation and judging what’s best at that particular time.

Elements of rapport also feature in my article on Conversational Styles. Using language to balance involvement with independence can express or convey collaboration, rather than antagonism and competition.

If you think about those people in your life with whom you feel you have a good rapport, what does that mean to you and how do you behave and interact with them? Do you have different types of rapport with the various people you come into contact with at work, whether colleagues, family or friends, even those you play sport with or see at the gym. Do you adapt your communication style depending on who you’re in conversation with, or perhaps even when you’re in front of an audience?

Are there people you wish you had better rapport with and do you think it would enhance your relationship with them and therefore improve your working life either because there is potential to do business together or because it’s a colleague you work with closely and you just feel you don’t gel?

How do you establish rapport?

Open your sensory channels, increase your awareness of others. Step into their shoes. This doesn’t mean you always have to agree, rather that you are able to see the other person’s point of view.

Pay attention and listen actively. Be genuinely interested. This may require more than ‘uh huh’ and nodding of the head if you’re in conversation, but be careful to balance useful feedback with not interrupting someone’s thought process.

Lastly, if you don’t have total recall or a photographic memory, do what Onassis did: keep detailed notes of those people you see as being key relationships in your professional or even personal development.