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Effective Communication: Building Rapport in the Workplace

Building and maintaining rapport in the workplace, or anywhere for that matter, might just be your best tool for cultivating a positive environment, both in and out of the office. Rapport is best defined as being how you relate to or connect with others, especially when it comes to harmonious or sympathetic relation. Every interaction with another being is a relationship and every relationship thrives when there is alignment, cohesion, stimulation, and compassion. Regardless of the context, when we feel connected with others and there is a shared vision we are more likely to put forth our best efforts. On the contrary, when we feel isolated, misunderstood, or excluded from others, even if it’s just one person, it will have an adverse effect on our emotional state and our productivity. Rapport is also the cornerstone or starting point for building trust. If you are not in rapport with someone, then trust is never going to happen. According to the book, The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey, when you lack trust in a workplace, you lack a fundamental connection that builds and fosters meaningful results. The first step in building trust is establishing rapport not just with individuals, but with teams and an entire company. Only then is trust able to flow down from the top of the organization to the entire staff.

Body Language Speaks Louder than Words The specific approach to building rapport comes from the idea that body language speaks louder than words. Dr. Jeff Thompson, PhD, cites the popular study that approximately 55 percent of communication is occurring non-verbally; 38 percent is tonality and 7 percent are the words that we use. What we’ve found from this study is that the majority of communication is occurring non-verbally and unconsciously because, for the majority of people—unless they’ve been professionally trained—their physiology, their movements, and their behavior is pretty much all unconscious. This tells us that a person’s body language communicates far more than their words. Take, for example, someone who stands with their arms crossed, has a stoic expression on their face, and uses a dry tone. This person could easily be interpreted as being standoffish, argumentative, or uncooperative. However, this isn’t known for sure. It may be that the person is more comfortable with their arms crossed, their facial expression could mean that they are pondering or considering something, and their tone could imply that they don’t understand what is being communicated.

Build Rapport by Mirroring Others When setting out to build rapport with another person or a team, look for as many ways of connecting as possible. We’ve all heard the old saying, “birds of a feather flock together.” Meaning, people tend to find comfort in likeness. They also tend to feel a deeper connection with someone who looks them in the eyes, someone who truly listens without interrupting or boasting or comparing themselves, and someone who they feel they can relate to on some level. A popular way to cultivate rapport is by modeling your physiology after the person you want to be in rapport with. Simply stated, match and mirror what they do. Sit in the same way they are sitting—if their legs are crossed, cross your legs. If they have both forearms on the table, place both of your forearms on the table. If they lean to one side, lean to one side. If they’re taking slow deep breaths, match their breathing. Now, this should always be done in a way that is comfortable and in alignment with you. Meaning, be yourself while you model another’s physiology.

The idea here is that people that are like each other tend to like each other. Before trying this on, go to a public place and just observe others as they interact. When you see a couple that is in rapport, you will see them both leaning in and almost in the exact same body pose. In contrast, when you see two people that are not in rapport, they will have very different body postures. Be careful not to turn this into mimicking. Kids naturally adopt this process around kindergarten age as they go through a phase of mirroring other’s behaviors. A parent will point out the behavior to the child and then the child learns to tone it back a notch or two. Yet, the fundamental behavior of matching and mirroring becomes a part of our initial programming early on in childhood. This is why children love to emulate other children as well as adults. Another opportunity for getting into rapport is to notice how the other person tends to verbally communicate. If they speak more slowly, you should slow your pace and if they’re speaking more quickly, you can pick up your step. Also, be aware of the tone of voice they are using—is it soft and gentle, or is it loud and deliberate? This is not to say you should blatantly copy them but rather follow their lead. Use the same words they do to create a culture of understanding. By doing this, there is a thread of similarity woven through your unconscious communication that leads to feelings of trust and connection. Just be yourself and do your best at the same time to match what it is that you are hearing.

Establish a Base Level of Rapport by Finding Common Interests In his book, The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni highlights the specific behaviors and predominant issues that a dysfunctional team faces. The first one is lack of trust and a lack of authenticity. When you are out of rapport with someone, it is difficult to open up and feel safe. Patrick also shares about a struggling team learning to open up with each other and sharing personal information to begin to establish a base level of rapport. When you learn personal things about another individual and you discover their likes and dislikes, you tend to find common interests. This is rapport-building 101. For example, if you meet another parent and begin talking about your children and what it’s like when they move into their teenage years, you’re likely to find a common interest to talk about. This is another way of establishing rapport. Or, if you love Italy and you meet someone who also loves Italy, and all of a sudden you are deep in conversation about the food, the wine, the people, the architecture, and the history. Time just flies by as if you are talking with a long-lost friend. During these moments, you naturally begin to establish rapport and you begin to experience a deeper level connection.

Practice Rapport Building Every Day, in Every Way Remember that this is just a beginning. To achieve trust or a deeper connection, you need to continue to build on this and actively practice rapport. So, what can you do to improve your relationships in the workplace? Begin with base level rapport and modeling other’s behaviors. Pay attention to the results and the reactions. You must also do your best to maintain ethics and integrity for it to be a true state. Also, both people have to want to be in rapport with one another. Meaning, if one person wants to open up a space for communication to freely move back and forth between two or more people and the other person isn’t interested in having a harmonious communication, then there is not much you can do. However, if a person or a workforce team does want to improve interoffice relationships and build alliances, this is the way to start. Keep it light, make it fun, and enjoy yourself while you deepen your connection with others. No matter what you do or where you go in life, this is a worthwhile skillset to develop.



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