The Building Blocks of Rapport

August 30, 2011

Chamber LogoTo continue DesignHammer’s recent roundtable participation trend, David Minton, Stephen Pashby, and I attended the Small Business Roundtable held at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce on August 3rd. The session’s speaker was Zemo Trevathan, owner of Zemo Trevathan & Associates, a firm specializing in teamwork, leadership, and personal skills coaching in the workplace. The roundtable program focused on rapport— more specifically, how to build rapport with someone beginning with a first handshake.

Listening Makes Us Smarter

The first activity of the session highlighted the importance of listening. In pairs, we took turns introducing ourselves and delivering our elevator pitch to a partner. As one partner spoke, the listener had the surprisingly challenging task of ignoring his or her partner. We also discovered how difficult it is to find the right words, keep focused, speak naturally, and maintain interest in a conversation while being ignored. According to Zemo, we feel this way because an attentive, engaged audience motivates us to speak eloquently, thoughtfully and effectively. To put it simply, being listened to makes us smarter.

So how does listening build rapport? By listening, you exhibit genuine interest in what someone else is saying. It is easier to engage with someone once you know they care about what you are saying. Listening is the foundation of rapport; if we’re being listened to, most of us want to reciprocate and listen as well, thus establishing a connection.

How Mirroring Builds a Connection

Ever had a conversation that was completely off-putting? Mismatched body language may have played a role in that experience. During a conversation, people are most likely to be influenced by someone like himself or herself. As Zemo showed us, this similarity can be as simple as the same posture or tone of voice. The first step in building rapport physically is to be aware of the other person’s body language and vocal quality. Is he leaning forward? Does she maintain steady eye contact, or occasionally look away? Does he speak quickly and interrupt often? The key to a natural and effective connection is to mirror the other person’s manner. The smallest similarity in body language and tone of voice can make a conversation more organic, flowing, and comfortable.

In the session’s last exercise, we practiced disregarding the rule of mirroring vocal tone and body language with a partner. According to David, “Zemo had an interesting way of presenting communication concepts, and the interactive exercises supported the theories he presented. I have attended similar workshops, and was very lucky to be paired with Sharon Hill, a nationally known business etiquette consultant I had met years ago through the Chamber, for the final exercise. Sharon focuses on best practices in business etiquette, and after the roundtable we noted the insight we gained from purposefully “breaking the rules,” and experiencing the deleterious affects. Either way, effective business etiquette is an often-overlooked skill, indispensable for anyone in business that interacts with clients, or the general public. ”

The Value of Rapport

Making connections with potential clients is crucial for a small business. Establishing rapport in networking presents yourself and your company in the best possible light. In addition, rapport can create a more effective and cooperative environment around the workplace and in meetings. Stephen observes, “As a business, we engage with our clients to establish and promote rapport. I’ve found that clients are more open to a collaborative and working relationship once they feel rapport with our team. In sales, we use rapport to showcase what we can do for a potential client in a way that is not forcing our business upon them. That way, we can show potential clients how we can greatly enhance their own business.”