David Wray

CommunicationGroup Meeting DynamicsLeadershipListeningRapport

Rapport with Strangers is as Easy as with Family

Credit: JT, Pinterest

What is the Rapport Challenge?

It helps to define rapport first. Rapport is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “a friendly, harmonious relationship. In particular (especially)a relationship characterized by agreement, mutual understanding, or empathy that makes communication possible or easy”

That was the easy bit! The trick is developing rapport in more formal settings but doing so in a helpful and balanced way. What do I mean by that? 

I am referring to the time we have all experienced, at some point, where someone shared far too much personal information too quickly (sometimes referred to as TMI moments). At that moment, we are caught off-guard and left feeling rather uncomfortable and overwhelmed with what we’ve just heard (and there is no unhearing it). Or if we’re the individual having just done the sharing, we’re left wondering why we didn’t just form an instant friendship – after all, we opened up. Isn’t that the point of relationships, to share?

The answer, of course, is that both perspectives are true in the right environment. The trick lies in developing the soft-skills necessary to develop rapport. 

Rapport starts with a mindset

Rapport, at its core, is about communication. How we communicate with words, behaviours, mindset, and how all of these elements interact to create an impression for others. 

Using a simple example to illustrate:

Maximillian leads the sales team. He likes and responds well to directness in all of his conversations. His confident approach has served him well because he is unphased by what others think of him or his style. Natalia, on the other hand, leads the operations team. She needs to feel safe before she opens up to speak her mind. She’s been burned one too many times in the past and developed this protective mechanism for herself over time. 

Two very different styles. Imagine them coming together for the first time in a business meeting about a corporate restructuring program that is going to affect 15% of the company’s 5,000 strong workforce.

During the management meeting, Maximillian asks what headcount his team will lose. He wants a greater proportion of headcount reductions from support teams, like operations, to protect his high-performing sales team. He ends his discussion with “I’m sure Natalia will agree, the sales team is more important to the company’s goals than a support team and needs to be protected.”

At that moment, normally reserved Natalia reacts: “I absolutely do not agree that support teams are less important…who will process sales orders, answer customer calls or solve delivery issues if support is cut so deeply? Perhaps Maximillian could volunteer himself as a headcount reduction to save some of his team?”

The conversation continues to deteriorate. What mindset would help Maximillian and Natalia communicate more effectively?

A 4Rs Mindset

The 4Rs Protocol offers a clear path that underpins the mindset needed for effective communication in all contexts. It does so through a solutions-based approach.

Table with the 4Rs: respect, responsibility, recognition and reassurance. Copyright David Wray, 2021

This mindset basically sets us up to communicate in a more constructive way, one where we apply these four attributes to both the individual to whom we are speaking and to ourselves. 

You might be wondering what I mean by ourselves. Think about a time where you made a mistake at work or with a loved one, and either upset or offended the person. When you walked away, what did your inner voice say? 

Was it along the lines of: “D*&#, I stupidly put my foot in my mouth. I am such an idiot!” or more along the lines of “I know I overreacted in that meeting because I’m tired, I need to acknowledge that and take responsibility for it with John?”

The first reaction, sadly all too common, is one where we demonstrate a lack of respect for ourselves. Most individuals would never speak to a loved one in that way, so why do we do it do ourselves? In telling ourselves something negative enough times, our mind starts to believe it. That, in turn, quickly chips away at self-esteem and confidence. 

The second reaction is respect for ourselves. It acknowledges the event, reasons, impacts and accepts the need to remedy it. Nowhere in the second example is the person beating themselves up for what happened, rather it is about acknowledgment and responsibility. 

The good news is that by understanding the impact these traits have on ourselves and others, we can use them to our advantage. Let’s circle back to Maximillian and Natalia and see how differently the conversation unfolds when the 4Rs are in play.

Apply Rapport Real-Time

Picking up the case immediately before the conversation. Maximillian adopts a tone of curiosity and now says: “How can we achieve the company’s objective to reduce headcount by 15% in the least painful way possible? We should consider the impact of any changes on our customers and our employees, both those that will leave the company and those that will remain.”

Maximillian’s respectful and open approach recognizes the sensitivity of the topic, how his tone and word choices might impact others and how his framing will assure or distress his peers. His approach elicits a comparable reaction from Natalia.

She responds: “Maximillian makes a good point; can we ask for the finance team’s help to model the impact of various headcount reduction scenarios? This would give us an understanding of the decision impacts so we can make better long-term decisions.”

The conversation continues along this vein allowing the team to reach a constructive and agreed position that balances multiple perspectives. 

Key Rapport Reminders

  • Use the 4Rs in all conversations – both to other people and as importantly to yourself
  • Consider your unspoken behaviours and their alignment (or misalignment) to your words

Practice applying this mindset in as many environments as you can until you are comfortably proficient at it. The 4Rs are a giant leap towards rapport, take your first step today!

Your turn

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