Building Rapport

How do you establish a connection with someone you’ve just met? A crucial element to kicking off any relationship is building rapport based on trust, understanding, and commonalities. Power networking works best when you can build rapport quickly and genuinely. Here are some tips:

  • Be authentic. Honestly, truly care about others as people first, not prospects. Your motive shows through your eyes. Reflect genuine interest on your face – an unhurried and focused expression, attentive and active listening, eye contact, and a comfortable, warm smile.
  • Present yourself well. If you were going to show a used car to a potential buyer, you would wash and wax it, right? In networking situations, you’re showing off your biggest asset – yourself. Remember that you are selling yourself as someone worth getting to know. Consequently, it’s critical to put care and thought into your appearance. Dress for the occasion. Is it a business casual mixer? A more formal function? Show that you value others – and yourself – enough to put forward your best foot. By looking pulled together, you show others that you have your act together and can function in a business setting.
  • Be confident but comfortable. As manners queen Emily Post once taught, the basic rule of etiquette is to make the other person comfortable. The same rule of thumb applies to a networking setting. Help set others at ease by being comfortable yourself. Offer a handshake, and use the timing, manner, and degree of firmness to show your poise and confidence. A first impression and even that initial handshake can set the tone of your relationship, so engage thoughtfully and wisely.
  • Learn names. One’s own name is often one of their favorite sounds. Repeat a new contact’s name in the initial conversation to show that you care about them as an individual. Recently while working in a large group setting on a project, I noticed that one man made a point of learning each man, woman, and child’s name early on. It really made him stand out as someone of quality and care – sure enough, he quickly became one of the group favorites for taking that extra step above and beyond.
  • Show genuine interest in the details. Ask new contacts about their interests, qualities, background, stories, hobbies, family, and career. Look for conversation cues like accessories or book or magazine, photos in an office, etc. Ask how he or she became interested in that hobby and what it is about it that interests him or her. Try to find commonalities and points of connection so that you can establish a foundation upon which to build. It’s even more impressive if you can remember those details and bring them up next time you talk, whether it is to ask how a child’s soccer game went or to discuss a book you’ve both read.
  • Mirror. One of the oldest tips in the book is to match communication, as it creates an instant familiarity that sets the other person at ease and draws them to you. Mirroring can be done with both verbal and nonverbal communication. If the other person leans in, wait a few seconds and lean in as well. Pick up on his or her cadence of speaking and catchphrases, then work to speak at a similar speed and use the same vocabulary. Subtlety is key – the other person should never be able to consciously catch onto what you’re doing.

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