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Rapport is the key to successful business relationships. Strong rapport means effective communication and a prospect or a colleague open and willing to engage in taking the steps that build partnership.

Exactly what rapport is has always been somewhat vague, many authors and trainers tend to gloss over it, somehow assuming that we should know instinctively how to create it.

That may seem to be a reasonable assumption. After all it is something we do quite naturally. But in just assuming that we instinctively know how to create rapport, we miss an opportunity to understand what it is that creates an influential High Trust Advisor™.

The starting point in understanding rapport is to have a definition to work from. So I’ve outlined below a possible definition with which we can work:

Rapport is that state in human relations where there is an agreed, sometimes silent, recognition and acceptance of common issues.

One of the key words in that description is the word ‘state’ – which can be defined as the ‘emotional state’.

Rapport must be present for there to be a high trust relationship in the first place.

We cannot expect to create a compelling relationship and one in which we have a strong degree of positive influence unless we are first masters of building deep rapport with a prospect or client.

Imagine a situation where we meet someone for the first time. What are our first feelings – are we immediately comfortable with them or are we unsure at first, cautious and perhaps a little suspicious?

Most likely the latter and this is perfectly natural. We seldom share our deepest secrets on first meeting someone. There is a process, mostly unconscious, which occurs within relationships as they develop.

However it’s also true that we “click” with some people. While with others we take and maintain an immediate dislike to them.

This is because at an unconscious level (and later at a conscious level) we have either positively or negatively been influenced by their appearances, language, voice, or behaviour and have sensed to a greater or lesser degree our shared or common issues.

In short, we have decided what level of threat to us this person represents by virtue of how different or similar they are to us.

However, there are specific things that we can use to ensure that we create the strongest rapport possible with people and as a result, establish high levels of trust, respect and influential communication with them.

These are summarised in what I call the “7-Step Rapport Process”. By concentrating on the elements of this we can quickly learn to create deep rapport with our prospects and clients.

These are all things that we all do unconsciously to a greater or lesser extent – but by understanding what we do when we do them, we can “choose” to use them in situations where we have to think consciously about affecting a professional relationship.

In the following post I have included just two simple tips that can help us build compelling rapport and trust with others.

  1. Our Eye Contact

Visually we immediately take in the appearance of the other person when we meet them first (as part of our programming that assesses any possible threat that this person might be to us) and here is where we can make a big impact with first impressions.

Firstly, appearance is important. Suitable dress (appropriate to the circumstance), general hygiene, style of hair etc. will all help with the initial impact we make.

While we cannot always expect to be perfectly turned out on all occasions, remember that (if we are in business for example) the way we dress reflects our professional or even social status and credibility.

More subtly, eye contact or lack of it will also be considered during the important first few moments of meeting someone.

Poor eye contact turns people off. It communicates poor (or lack of) interest in the other person.

No one likes to be “overlooked” (as we may appear to others if we fail to make good eye contact with them) so they in turn will reflect that back to us and exhibit a similar low level of interest in us – hardly the best way to start a High Trust relationship.

In business there is an unconscious rule when communicating which is the ‘Look to Listen’ rule. Basically, if we’re not looking at someone – they’re not listening to us, so eye contact becomes an important piece in how we can begin to influence others.

However for some of us it can be difficult to maintain eye contact without staring. This can be awkward as staring can often portray aggression or potential confrontation and most definitely will not assist us with developing good rapport!

 

In general, we create safe, neutral and yet effective eye-contact when we keep our gaze anywhere within an inverted triangle, with the apex ending at the point of the chin and the base of the triangle between the person’s eyes.

 

Keeping our gaze anywhere within this imaginary triangle will help us maintain good eye contact of a non-confrontational nature while keeping the client’s interest and attention on us.

  1. Your Handshake

We can tell a lot about a person from a handshake – or at the very least we make assumptions about them – part of our initial discounting and judgement process which colours our feelings for them from that point on and hence our level of rapport.

A handshake can install feelings in someone about us as soon as ‘first contact’ is made. As most client decisions are emotionally based, we need to ensure that first feelings are good feelings.

For example, how do we feel when we get that loose, limp, “wet fish”, disinterested handshake that hardly passes as a handshake at all? Or what about the “earthquake” where the hand is seized and squeezed in a vice-like grip?

Sometimes clients may attempt to dominate the handshake (and hence the relationship) and their hand will be very prominently placed, palm downwards, on top of ours, deliberately (although probably unconsciously) placing us in a submissive position. They may even extend their hand with theirs pointing downwards, forcing us to place our hand underneath theirs.

To counteract this, all we have to do is cover the top of their hand by grasping it briefly with our other hand, so that we end up enclosing their original handshake in our two hands.

Now who’s in charge…and we have given a clear sign that we intend to conduct our business and relationship as equals.

However, we can also use this in our favour.

By being the first to engage someone by extending our hand palm upwards in the ‘submissive’ position – we immediately place our client in a ‘dominant’ (and therefore perceived by them as a safer) position.

Their immediate feelings are therefore of being in control, being safe and as a result their initial anxiety is lessened – as is their potential resistance to us.

  1. The Power of Your Smile

Smiling is important when meeting someone for the first time as it conveys an attitude of openness and acceptance to the person, helping them to relax and to be open to us in turn.

Think of the last time you met someone…were they smiling or not?

How did it make you feel the last time you met someone who smiled as if delighted to meet you? Now think of how that makes others feel when you meet them.

For ourselves, it helps us to relax and places us in a positive state, which makes it easier for us to manage the communication. The better and more relaxed we feel the easier the conversation will be.

In addition, our expectations of the success of the conversation will be high. Such expectations cause a reciprocal effect from the other person and hence the process tends to be successful.

The single greatest human need is that of acceptance – and it is conveyed easily and effortlessly with the power of our smile.  Smiles are infectious too – they just seem to spread good cheer and warmth into a relationship.

Smiling comes from the fact that by exposing our upper teeth we are indicating that we cannot attack – primarily because we cannot grasp with our upper teeth alone. Who knew?

However if we stick out our chin and expose our lower teeth, we are indicating hostile intention. Ever notice someone getting aggressively hostile? They immediately stick out their chin don’t they? They unconsciously intend to ‘take a bite’ out of us.

Smile.

It’s great for our health and gives us the upper hand in communicating with others – and smile with your whole face, not just your teeth. There’s nothing worse than an insincere smile. It’s an effort to create and does not help the relationship in anyway. People know whether we are real or not.

Consider these three tips when next you meet a prospect, a client or a new colleague and see how it allows you to – and them – relax more quickly into a new relationship.