Forty-seven years ago there were hundreds of thousands of other Americans who came from all parts of the world to hear an afternoon of speeches. Some speakers were okay, some were bad; even the main speaker didn’t capture the crowd as anticipated. Almost as an afterthought, a man from Atlanta, Georgia, took the podium. A preacher with a following in the South, Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a speech that has stood the test of time.
That speech resonated with the crowd and like a bolt of lightning, his message spread. But that afternoon, was he trying to build rapport with the large crowd or was he trying to connect with them?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary online defines rapport as relation marked by harmony, conformity, accord, or affinity. According to Wikipedia, rapport is one of the most important features or characteristics of unconscious human interaction. It is commonality of perspective, being in sync with or on the same wavelength as the person with whom you are talking.
Rapport is a popular and ubiquitous concept in sales. A module on rapport is included in virtually every sales and leadership-training course and in almost every sales book. Thousands of books and seminars are dedicated exclusively to the concept of rapport. A Google search for how to build rapport yields a million or so returns and despite all of this, rapport is among the most misunderstood and misapplied concepts in business.
Lesson number one: Rapport is essentially being in sync with another person to the extent that you are able to influence their behavior. The rapport building process is designed to develop common ground with another person through mirroring and matching body language, voice tone and speed, word patterns, eye movement, and even breathing.
There are a number of techniques beneficial in building rapport such as:
· matching your body language (i.e., posture, gesture, and so forth)
· maintaining eye contact
· matching breathing rhythm
In time, when you truly have rapport with another, you have the ability to lead them and change their behavior patterns. A process called neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), embodies these techniques and includes word-pattern matching, eye movement, facial expressions and more. NLP is espoused by many rapport experts as the real key to relationships and influence.
The problem with rapport is that it is just too hard and complex to quickly get into sync with someone enough to influence their behaviors. Few business professionals have the time or inclination to become experts in deciphering word patterns, eye movements, and facial expressions. Learning to effectively and discretely mirror and match people based on their communication style — audio, visual or kinesthetic — sounds really cool in a seminar, but without study of the method and consistent practice, it rarely succeeds consistently in real world business situations with real people.
Lesson number two: Finding common ground is a good thing. The more we have in common with others, the easier it is for them to like us. Make certain that when you find common ground with a prospective customer that you use it in an effort to connect. The dilemma is that the quest for common ground in the guise of rapport building is often awkward, cheesy, and manipulative. Making matters worse are the legions of sales consultants who mistake small talk at the beginning of a sales engagement as rapport building.
Taking their cue from misinformed sales trainers and coaches, they’ll make dumb comments about some random subjects with their guest, customer, client or prospect as if that is enough to initiate a relationship. Remember buyers don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. We do this by asking questions and listening to their responses. The responses they give lead us to our next question(s).
Lesson number three: Don’t try to build rapport as if you had a checklist of motions to go through. Buyers are not fooled and find these lame attempts ridiculous and insulting. Some become numb to rapport-building efforts, others think it is just plain offensive.
Lesson number four: The real secret is connecting. Rapport influences behavior; it can be sincere but often feels manipulative. People who feel manipulated will distrust your motivations no matter how pure and will never feel connected to you.
Connecting, on the other hand, is designed to win others over through a focus on their needs. The most effective strategy for winning over — convincing them you are their friend — is to start and end by helping them get what they want. The most insatiable human desires, our deepest cravings, are the desires to feel valued, appreciated, and important.
Lesson number five: The key to connecting and winning others over is, therefore, extremely simple — make them feel important. How do you do that? Listen. Simply listen. Listening is powerful. Truly listening requires self-discipline, selflessness, practice, and patience, yet it is not complicated or complex.
Martin listened to people. So, what do you think? Did he connect or build rapport that day on the National Mall? Which one are you doing?
“Whatever your life's work is, do it well. A person should do their job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.