Rapport

by Arielle Essex

Approachability and credibility

People naturally have many different styles of behaviour. Within an organisational structure, they must also operate according to their role and position. In this context, it’s important to recognise that understanding how to utilise the following two different styles of rapport– credibility and approachability – greatly simplifies all the variables.

Many people imagine that establishing rapport is a matter of matching and mirroring the other person – tuning into them and making yourself approachable, melting away any barriers and so on. Being able to do this – to make yourself approachable – is fine and is certainly evidence that the person concerned has mastered a considerable section of the full range of rapport competencies. However, the manager who is approachable at all times and always empathic runs the risk of being seen as simply an ‘agony aunt’ rather than a leader.

For a manager, it is equally important to master the other side of rapport building – establishing credibility and exercising charisma.

Most of us can call to mind managers who are cold and unapproachable, and therefore unable to get the best from their team. Equally, there are managers who need to learn how and when to exercise leadership, knowing when to take control and how to do it apparently effortlessly, irresistibly and yet with charm.

Approachability

Most people make the mistake of believing that rapport building means smiling, giving a good handshake, being friendly, engaging in conversation, exchanging pleasantries and finding common links, such as shared interests, mutual friends, goals, outcomes and so on. Developing such personable charm is essential, but relying on these skills alone is not enough.

Rapport building entails more than engaging in small talk. It must also take into account who you are interacting with, the context and the desired outcome. It requires good listening skills and keen sensory awareness of the other person’s responses.

How approachable are you?

People who have good ‘people skills’ are simply easier to get along with. To a certain degree, the amount of rapport you have will be equal to the extent to which you feel liked and respected. Think about the people you ‘click’ with – where the rapport flows naturally. Chances are you feel you have more in common with them. You are more likely to listen and agree with what they have to say. They are more likely to follow your line of thinking.

Contrast this with someone you dread talking to – where there is no rapport. Chances are the conversation doesn’t flow. Here, people don’t feel heard, and the messages get misunderstood, interrupted, criticised, distorted or discarded. These interactions can lead to feeling unappreciated. Ask yourself if you’ve ever ‘talked at’ someone without noticing whether or not they heard what you said or without appreciating the effect your words might have had on them.

Key point

A career path cannot progress without good approachable rapport skills.

Some people have a blind spot about their effect on others and may lack awareness about how little rapport they generate. The first they know about it is when they receive direct feedback or comments on 360s about having poor people skills. Worse, the poor relationship skills may have already led to a falling out with someone or some kind of HR intervention.

Credibility

The less understood aspect of rapport concerns knowing how, when and with whom to exude authority, gravitas and leadership tactics – and being able to do this with subtle charm. Charismatic leaders appreciate, impress and inspire others to follow them. Learning how to command such respect will make sure your ideas get heard; it will pave the way to agreement, get buy-in and win allies.

If you do not know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere.

Henry Kissinger

Developing these qualities requires you to understand the power structure of the situation and suss out the other people’s best attributes, their criteria, values and agendas. At the same time, you must be able to switch into approachability to maintain the flow of conversation (for more on this, see Rapport for leaders).

How credible are you?

People who command the respect of others often exude power and authority without having to say a word. They walk tall, speak with gravitas and seem comfortable assuming a leadership position. They may or may not turn on some friendly charm from time to time, but even when they do, their charm will exude a certain flavour. They usually have a firm grasp of the purpose of the conversation, the meeting, or whatever is on the agenda, and will not lose sight of that. In general, they tend to deliver their message in as few words as possible.

People who focus too intently on getting work accomplished often lack these vital skills of leadership. In an effort to impress others with their expertise, they talk profusely and confuse their listeners with a barrage of unnecessary information. Clarity is lost. When promoted, they experience problems with managing their teams and difficulties when reporting to the board. The higher the position, the more credible styles of rapport need to be utilised.

With good rapport skills, there’s confidence to handle every type of interaction with ease. You’ll know exactly when to exude credibility and when to be more approachable. People will listen to you with respect and feel comfortable in your presence. You’ll be able to communicate succinctly, giving the amount and type of information necessary for different individuals in the way that is most efficient. You’ll waste less time, have fewer misunderstandings and produce better results.

Tip

The successful manager knows when to be approachable, how far to allow this to go, when to exude authority, and how to do all this with charm.