It was the beginning of the twentieth century. Albert Einstein was working as a patent clerk in the Swiss city of Bern. Wait! Are we talking about the same Albert Einstein whom the world knows as the greatest physicist of all times? Yes, it is the same person. Before being famous, he worked as a clerk in a patent office.
A patent clerk was not what Einstein wanted to be. He had graduated to be a physics professor, but no one was ready to accept him in that role. After spending two futile years in search of a teaching position, a dismayed Einstein was forced to accept a job as a patent clerk in Bern, where he remained for the next seven years.
Working as a patent clerk was a sorry state of affairs for a young, ambitious Einstein. However, he could not blame anyone but himself. At college, he had been a rebel, often behaving rudely to his professors. Consequently, as he graduated and wanted to join as a teacher, none of his previous professors were ready to accept or recommend him for an academic role.
The story of Einstein’s social failure takes us to the central theme of this article: how to build and maintain rapport in professional life. Unlike Einstein who was denied career opportunities due to lack of rapport with his ex-teachers, you can build and maintain rapport with your seniors and peers. But first, let us understand what rapport means:
Rapport refers to a close and harmonious relationship in which individuals and groups understand each other’s feelings and ideas, resulting in better communication. To be able to build and maintain a good rapport is a desirable interpersonal skill which can be useful in both personal and professional lives.
The following seven lessons are intended to help you develop your rapport building skills:
Lesson One: First Impression Counts
Some people tend to judge you based on your first impression. Your appearance and demeanour should help you connect with people, rather than creating a barrier. Speaking of first impressions, the first thing you need to be mindful about is your appearance. For instance, the way you dress up for an occasion should match the norms. Your dress should not be too different from others in the group; for instance, you might avoid wearing a T-shirt for a formal gathering.
Showing up late can also spoil your first impression. Always try to be on time. Meet new people with a confident smile. Start with small talk without being personal if you are meeting someone for the first time. Be courteous and attentive, avoid interrupting and listen to understand while the other person is speaking. More on listening in the next lesson.
Lesson Two: Be a Good Listener
Being a good listener is one of the fundamental skills for rapport building. When talking to people, listen attentively, taking a mental note of key things being described. Try to remember names; this will boost the speaker’s confidence as well as your impression in their eyes. Be empathetic i.e., try to understand things from others’ perspective and emotions. Keep fine tuning your expressions and body language as the conversation goes.
Lesson Three: Focus on Similarities Rather than Differences
Identifying common grounds is useful for building rapport. This is where small talk would be helpful. Start by asking open ended questions like educational background, professional history etc. while expanding the discussion around shared topics of interest. Avoid areas of disagreement. Disagreements are a part of life but not the only part.
Lesson Four: Look for Areas of Collaboration
Rapport grows around human interaction, and a great way to interact with other humans is to work around common goals. Collaborating on common assignments is a useful methodology for rapport building. A collaboration could be as simple as attending a conference together or as complex as cofounding a company. Regardless of the nature and scale of collaboration, it offers a unique opportunity to identify requirements and solve problems as a team, which essentially aids rapport building.
Lesson Five: Try Mirror and Match Method
Research shows that we inadvertently tend to imitate the people we accompany. Based on this, a method called Mirror and Match can be used to build rapport with others. This is how it works: as you observe the other person, you try to imitate their body language e.g., gestures, use the words they use predominantly, and match your tempo and tone with theirs etc.
Mirror and Match technique is intended to strengthen your rapport with others; however, it should be used sparingly with some common sense. If you start imitating anyone blatantly, it could be taken as an offence. Therefore, this technique would only be effective after you have gained enough mastery on it.
Lesson Six: How to Maintain Rapport
Rapport is similar to trust. Trust revolves around a track record, and a reputation for being reliable and consistent. Rapport is all of this plus a bit more bonding and connection. You can build trust and rapport at the same time. Just like trust building, it takes months and years to build rapport with someone. But it could be lost in a minute. Once you have built rapport with a peer, make sure you maintain it.
Regular communication is a key to maintaining rapport with someone. Keep in touch with your peers. Define a reasonable frequency of contact i.e., not too much to bug them, and not too less, lest you forget each other. Meeting your commitments on regular basis is equally important.
Lesson Seven: How to Rebuild Rapport When Lost
Once rapport is lost, it is not easy to rebuild. However, it is not impossible. The first step is to determine why it was lost in the first place. Be humble and honest; apologize if you need to. Next, start working on repairing the broken connection. Rebuild your track record. Broken rapport is much like broken glass; once shattered, it requires a lot of extra work and extraordinary commitment to join the pieces together. Save your time and energy; don’t let the rapport break once built.