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The Rules of Rapport

When I was posted, a few hundred years ago, to become a debriefing officer in a fledgling “human intelligence” outfit, the first thing I learned on Day One was the definition of the word “rapport”. I googled it so you don’t have to and, according to the very useful “Rapport forms the basis of meaningful, close and harmonious relationships between people. It’s the sense of connection that you get when you meet someone you like and trust, and whose point of view you understand. It’s the bond that forms when you discover that you share one another’s values and priorities in life”.

Good rapport is vital for fruitful relationships, whether business or personal. It takes thought, practice and consideration so that the relationships you foster feel natural rather than forced, genuine rather than phoney, fun and respectfully permissive rather than uptight and overly formal. Both parties should inherently understand the mutual benefit of the connection and feel at ease with it.

Here are some of the tips I have learned over many years of practice, whether through business networking, building relationships with coaching clients or even during my work as a military interrogator (think about it - you may be sworn enemies, but a cup of tea and a biscuit works wonders for a spot of relationship building!)

How to make every conversation feel like you’re one to one in your favourite cafe:

  • Actually, if it doesn’t feel too weird, take your new friend to your favourite cafe and talk there - why not?

  • Learn to relax yourself so you give off relaxed and friendly vibes. Combined with a genuine smile, this is very disarming.

  • Be absolutely there and totally present for the person in front of you. Otherwise, there is no conversation, only noise and hot wind.

  • Find somewhere comfy to talk where you can see and hear each other properly. You don’t have to face each other - in fact sometimes it’s best to be side by side. You can give somebody’s words your full attention just as easily when side by side.

  • Open up the centre of your body and turn and face the conversation. Allow yourself to communicate with everything you’ve got. Not at full volume, obviously - be circumspect - but remember what you have at your disposal. Words, pitch, intonation, energy, gesticulation, warmth.

  • How you use, dress, move and place your body within a physical space speaks volumes about you and how you see the relationship.

  • Remember it’s the space between the notes that makes the music. So do shut up and listen at least as much as you speak. Good conversation is equal contribution from either party, plus a little breathing space. So if you are talking for over 40% of the time, you need to think about dialling it back.

I think my golden rule with anybody new is to make conversation easy from the get-go by talking with them like you’ve known them for yonks. My sister got her first job as a PA on a boiling hot day in London by walking into the interview, taking one look at her prospective employer and announcing “bloody hell, you look a bit hot, shall we do this down the pub?” She had the job from that very moment. It doesn’t matter who you’re talking to, they are still human.

Right, this one’s the top tip for important conversations: Listen to what your companion is saying until they have finished talking. Avoid formulating your response while the other person is speaking. That’s what the space between the notes is for. There’s a time and a place for banter and talking all over one another. Feeling heard is absolutely KEY to top quality communication. So give it space.

Spurious thought: In an effort to climb the professional tree, we can overreach ourselves to such an extent that we start to uproot from the ground - forgetting that our roots keep us alive and fed. Big mistake. Well, terminal eventually.

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