“It takes a while for those guys, always, to find a camaraderie and find a common step among them…They all have skill. They all have talent. But yeah, now they do have a rapport. That’s almost as important as having the skill.”
Eli Manning (NFL QB; 2X Superbowl Champion) referring to his offensive line
“Cater to your customers’ lifestyles. It will create instant rapport and a lasting sense of “I belong here…Move from serving clients the way YOU like to be served to serving them the way THEY like to be served.”
Marilyn Suttle (Author; Who’s Your Gladys?)
“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.”
C.G. Jung (Founder; Field of Analytical Psychology)
Without rapport, interactions are awkward.
Why can some people walk up to anyone in a room and spark up a comfortable conversation while other people make everyone in the room feel uncomfortable without saying anything at all? The answer is rapport.
Rapport is that invisible bond you feel when you’re getting along with another person. It’s the sense that says, “This person gets me.” Rapport helps people lower their walls and get comfortable enough to network. Understand that rapport is idea grease. It lubricates the exchange of projects, plans, problems, solutions, and personal interests. The problem is that building rapport can be extremely difficult. This is because different people can respond to the exact same stimuli in different ways.
Human beings don’t have quality control checks. Nothing repeats perfectly. Real life is rife with subtle variations. But subtle variations are the building blocks of rapport. Your ability to play off of variable human behavior is precisely what will allow you to speed up the rapport process. With the right tools, you can squeeze a lifetime of chemistry into a few, short seconds.
I met Sharí Alexander at the MastermindTalks networking event in Toronto, Canada last spring. I was impressed with Sharí’s ability to light up a room (or a table) and connect with everyone around her. Sharí asked really good questions and seemed to instantly generate rapport with the other attendees. Whether she was chatting with a superstar or an unknown, a quiet guy, or a loud girl, she was able to get him or her comfortable quickly. As a result, everyone was willing to share their ideas and listen to her ideas.
Later, I found out that Sharí specializes in helping businesses build, or re-build, rapport with their clients. She speaks regularly on advanced communication and connection techniques. One of the coolest things about Sharí is that she has spent the last 10 years interviewing and researching the world’s top rapport specialists, including CIA field operatives, criminal defense attorneys, undercover agents, pick-up artists, and police interrogators. I asked Sharí to share her beliefs on rapport, including what rapport is, what rapport isn’t, and how to develop lasting rapport (even with difficult personality types).
Rapport is a fallen buzz word. For a hot minute, everyone in every sales meeting, negotiations training, and customer service seminar was using the word rapport. Explaining its importance and usefulness were all the rave. Then, sadly, the term “rapport” diminished to mean “relationship.” If you had a pleasant interaction with someone, you had “rapport.” You had rapport with your spouse. You had rapport with your mailman. You had rapport with the waiter you tipped generously at dinner.
As it goes with many buzz words, after the term was used over and over again, it lost its meaning. “Rapport? Oh, yeah, I have that. Sure. Use it all the time.” The concept was easily dismissed.
Deep, meaningful, strong rapport has gravitas. It takes effort. It must be nurtured. You must handle it with care. In Langley, Virginia, rapport is never taken for granted. Langley is the headquarters for the Central Intelligence Agency. Field operatives, or spies, understand the power of rapport. True rapport means national secrets. It means saving lives. It means sacrifice. Field agents are tasked with acquiring assets – people who will divulge critical intelligence. In the spy community, field agents are often judged by fellow agents based on how many assets they have. It is a litmus test for how skilled you are at “the approach,” building rapport, earning trust, and turning the asset.
I became fascinated with the spy world – well, to be honest – after watching my first James Bond film as a kid. But it wasn’t until not too long ago when I realized the source of my idolizing. I was absolutely in awe of the idea that someone could earn another’s trust with the power of their presence and the mastery of their words. I was hooked.
I became an influence junkie. After reading a library’s worth on the subject, it was time to delve into the real-world of influential communication skills. I wanted to know the application side of this academic discussion. And so, it became my mission to seek out these masterful communicators, learn from them, and share my findings with anyone who was interested.
First of all, awareness is a trait that every spy needs. In addition to being able to assess threats, they also need a keen awareness of people. You have no chance at building rapport if you are focused on yourself. Observing the other person can lead to clues about the strength of your rapport, or lack there of.
When two people are in rapport, they take on various characteristics of each other. Let’s say there is a boisterous and loud person speaking to a more reserved and timid person. Right off the bat, you have two opposites in a discussion, so rapport will be an uphill climb. For the sake of argument, let’s say the timid person starts to feel rapport with the boisterous person. Timid Timmy will have a moment where he raises his vocal levels, similar to Boisterous Betty. The shift might be fleeting, but it was there. A keen influencer would know how significant that moment was. Rapport is brewing.
Matching and mirroring happens subconsciously and often goes unnoticed. Influencers on a mission will consciously manufacture this phenomenon. They will pay attention to the other person’s nonverbal communication, word choice, and emotional state. The influencer will choose a few of these to subtly match and mirror, sending a subconscious signal to the other person “I have rapport with this guy. He’s a lot like me. He sure seems swell.”
When attaining an asset, field agents are on a mission to secure intelligence from a target about X, Y, and Z. Building a thin layer of rapport and then jumping in with a question like, “So, what are the Russian nuclear codes?” won’t work. What little rapport existed is instantly shattered.
We all have certain information that we want to protect. It could be the secret 11 herbs and spices at Kentucky Fried Chicken HQ. It could be the marketing plan for next year. Or, it could be some embarrassing things we did in college. No one is completely forthright right away. It takes time and rapport before we share the really juicy stuff.
Field agents know to test the waters. They will have preplanned statements or questions to weave into conversations. The purpose of the statements is to covertly bring up a topic around the topic of true interest. For example, let’s say an agent needs information on where a hostile group meets in a village in the Middle East. Rather than asking, “Where are the bad guys?,” he might ask, “are there any parts of the village where you wouldn’t want your children playing?” The intel is parallel to the targeted information. The agent then turns on their observational antennae to full capacity. They intently watch during those precious few split seconds to determine if the asset is opening up or closing off.
At some point you, too, will be on a conversational mission. You will want someone to buy what you’re selling. You will want the dirty secrets about your competitors. You will want to get a girl’s phone number. Before jumping in, test the waters and observe their reactions. They will give you clues if now is the time to push forward or to ease back.
Unless you’re Rain Man, you don’t have a perfect memory. You forget things. Spies aren’t allowed the convenience of forgetting. The smallest details can later turn out to be critical pieces to the puzzle.
A number of the CIA field operatives I interviewed, along with other officers in military intelligence, have detailed profiles on their targets. In the paperwork-centric world of intelligence, you can only imagine how highly detailed these profiles are. Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest you create detailed dossiers. However, the idea of writing down key information to help you remember things for future interactions is not a bad idea. Let’s say you meet someone at a conference and hit it off. You have a wonderful conversation. You know you will want to do business with this person in the near future. You exchange contact information and naturally move on to meeting 20 more people at said conference. When you meet up with the person you developed rapport with, you flub up on a few of the details.
“Tell me about your time at Harvard.”
“I went to Yale.”
“Oh! That’s right. I think I met someone else at the conference who went to Harvard. I must have mixed that up.”
Get ready to climb because you have now placed yourself at the bottom of rapport hill. Some people might be forgiving of such hiccups, but others might react as if you just called their mom an ugly pig if you mix up Harvard and Yale.
Take a quick moment to jot down a few helpful details on the back of their business cards or, my favorite, have a file in Evernote and update it accordingly. The information can be whatever you like it to be. I personally like to add details about what I noticed when certain topics came up. What was their reaction? What struck me as odd? What needs follow up? When were they in a peak emotional state? When did they seem incongruent? Obviously, these are the notes of an influence junkie, like myself, so choose to do whatever works for you.
Notes will help you remember. You may not see this person again for a year. You could slowly build the rapport back to where it was or have a file that you can quickly scan and, like magic, the two of you, in terms of rapport, are starting out right where you left off.
Have you tried any of Sharí’s techniques in the past? Do you have any rapport tips of your own? If so, share what works for you in a comment below.
Sharí Alexander has built her career as a speaker, writer, trainer and coach by revealing secrets of enhanced communication techniques. Her clients include Fortune 100 companies, CEOs, politicians, NFL players, Emmy Award® winners, ESPN announcers, reality TV stars, and NYT Bestselling authors. Read more from Sharí here: www.shari-alexander.com/blog