When you meet anyone for the first time, be it in an interview, at a bar, or starting in a new workplace, there are some key essentials to having a successful conversation, versus an unsuccessful one, and therefore making a good first impression to move forward. Obviously with dating and relationships out of work there are a number of other initial factors such as if you like the look of them, their voice, their smell and how they dress or smile.
In the workplace, whilst these all carry some sort of impression as well, and it goes without saying that in interviews how you present yourself is one of the key factors, as well as timekeeping; what you say and how you say it is what counts.
image: Evelyn Olyvares
Rapport builds the basis of trust and is the core platform for all relationships, if you come away from meeting feeling that ‘slimy’ or unnerved feeling, you are unlikely to want to speak to them again, let alone meet, work with or collaborate. Making a first impression only comes once, but you can work on and always build rapport.
There are around 5 or so key areas to look at when building rapport:
1. Understanding a persons beliefs and values is essential, and the ability to see things from an alternate perspective from your own. By being able to respect how they present themselves and how they interact with you, whether you agree with their values or beliefs or not, respect will engender a better working rapport.
2. Matching :
- behaviour/ body language - we all like people like ourselves, so if you can match body postures and gestures this is a subtle way of putting them at ease. With people who genuinely like each other this happens naturally. Crossing your arms however is generally a defensive posture so if they are sitting like this then I would avoid mirroring this and keep your body open and engaging.
- tone of voice and pace - people who get on well tend to speak at the same sort of pace and at much the same volume.
Avoid whining or moaning tones, even if your voice is naturally high pitched - any rapport that you may have built will dissolve if you moan or whine. If you are a less positive or confident person, then focus on saying what you do in a strong even tone and don't ramble on. Rambling shows indecisiveness and implies fluffy thinking. Squeaky high pitched voices are distracting so if you have a naturally higher vocal range then try and limit its range. Speaking too fast also implies impatience or nerves.
- eye contact - this is again usually done at a level that a person is most comfortable receiving, so matching how much they use eye contact will feel reassuring to them. If you stare at them, laser them, this will put them out of comfort, likely break any rapport with them, and turn them off any kind of conversation you are having, and is not supportive to the conversation. Of course if thats how you want them to feel then that is a different thing, but they won't forget how you treated them so I would use this in a measured way. Giving a hard paddington bear stare will freeze them out and creates a feeling of conflict and tension.
- Speech and words - the way people speak and the words they use reflect thought patterns and their reality. If you are in a briefing session or with a new client, make a note of key phrases or words they use as this gives great insight into their goals and values. Use the same words they use as it shows you’ve been listening. Try to avoid paraphrasing as thats your words interpreting from theirs. If you decide to match words, look for agreement in their body language such as nodding, as this shows increasing rapport. By listening to these patterns and articulating back to them what you are hearing is one of the strongest ways to show you are listening and even if you focus on none of the other areas, this one will create strong associations. People like to feel that what they say is important, of value and not being dismissed.
3. Systems - these are the way we represent things to ourselves - so if you typically visualise things you might say, ‘ i see what you mean’ or 'show me what you mean’. There are 4 key types we fit in to: Visual, auditory, feeling and analytical. (Beyond that some people get a strong sense of smell and taste too.) By tapping in to the type of descriptive words they use when speaking will indicate to you what runs them. i.e. if they say 'I see what you mean', then you would say 'Ill show you xxx’ rather than ‘Ill talk you through xx’. Many of us will have strengths in around 2 areas more dominantly, such as visual and auditory, or auditory and analytical, visual and feeling, so they might also switch between the 2, just listen out for the clues and by matching the words for their system, they will feel that you are listening and relating to them.
4. Environment - temperature of a room is important (we all know that sitting a room thats too cold/ hot, stuffy or noisy makes conversation that much harder). It goes without saying that mobiles are a no-no too. Creating a relaxed vibe and a space where people can be open and share is important, reduce formality if possible as it sets people at ease (this doesn't mean look informal or less professional, but it does imply having a more relaxed character)
5. Gaining trust - Trust takes time. Being real and authentic is essential and if you are pretending to be something you aren’t, the chances are it will show. Sincerity and competence will equally show through on both sides. So if you say you will do something follow it through. If you can’t, have a jolly good reason for why not and of course if you make a commitment or promise then ensure its something you can actually do, be able to carry out your promises. This goes hand in hand with congruence - make sure your words and actions match! Show vulnerability - its honest, shows you are human and that you have a degree of self-awareness.
Finally, in conversations, there is something that underpins all this and is more pertinent to all of us when creating or looking for rapport in a conversation or building a relationship. We all have standards and ethical standards. Its what makes us who we are. They drive our own actions and how we impact others. (e.g. breaking confidentiality, cliquey gangs, gossiping and tittle-tattle do nothing for your reputation, nor for your credibility and are usually in conflict with most peoples moral or ethical standard) These are our own internal standards that set the parameters for what behaviour we will accept in others, towards us. Then there are external standards which are those expectations that you have of others around you and what they expect from us. Having high standards enhances your credibility, and being clear about these is important. When people fail to meet our standards we have an opportunity as to whether we want to continue investing or not, but its only fair if you have shared with them in advance so that they can meet those standards.
Equally, we all also recall those occasions where we let our standards slip or were suffering a lack of confidence or some other factor that meant that we didn’t adhere to one of these. It invariably leaves a sour taste in our mouth or some form of regret, but the truth is that people do slip and make mistakes, so don't always be harsh and blast them for a first offence!
We are not all perfect, we are imperfect beings so just make a note and pick up again. Being honest about this will only add to your credibility. But, when meeting someone, your gut will tell you if their standards are in conflict with yours and this will help you identify both the gap and if whether it is a relationship you want to invest in or nurture.