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There are plenty of great people in the world—honest, reliable, and considerate—who frequently fail in developing friendships and relationships with the people around them. If you haven’t got good social skills and body language or confidence around others, you may fall into this category.

If that’s the case, then what you could be missing is the ability to develop rapport. If you don’t know what that is, rapport is:

a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.

So, if you’re terrible at cultivating this strange thing, here are a few tips to get you started.

Smile

Smiling bypasses the mental defences of the person you are talking to and allows them to mentally associate you with trusted friends. While that doesn’t mean you’ll instantly become a trusted friend, it does often take down the first set of defences people have built up towards other people.

A stony-faced, grim look on your face isn’t really going to earn you any new buddies.

Compliments

Praise and compliments appeal to someone’s need for recognition and admiration. That recognition is also a pretty rare thing to give and receive in modern society, so tactful and appropriate use of compliments can effectively set you apart from the bulk of unknowns and acquaintances.

Most people can smell a false compliment from the other side of the world, so be careful. Don’t dabble in lies and look for, and wait for (as the case may be), something you can genuinely say you are impressed by.

Benefits over Features

You know the guy who brags, and brags, and brags? If you are anything at all like him, you might want to take some old and clichéd copywriter’s advice.

Benefits over features means talking about what you can do for others instead of how great you are. In the copywriting context it means focusing the conversation on how the product can help the potential customer’s life, whereas a feature list would simply discuss what makes the product so great. For example:

  • Feature: Our operating system contains a built-in state of the art firewall.
  • Benefit: The built-in firewall protects you from viruses and malicious intrusions, keeping your computer safe.

See how you can apply this to your daily conversations and watch the results.

Benefits over features. What do they get out of this relationship?

Opposites Don’t Attract

Strangely enough, oppositions in body language patterns can cause a dissonance in interpersonal relationships and create an obstacle for the development of rapport.

Matching body language patterns, in moderation and ‘invisibly’ is a good idea. If they use hand gestures when they speak, use them. If they stare right at you when they’re talking, do the same. This idea can even extend to the voice—if you’re talking to someone with a low, monotonous voice, without changing the character of your voice in an obvious way, try and match it. If they have an expressive voice, don’t speak in monotone. Monotones are usually slightly irked by expressive speakers and vice versa.

This is a psychological thing that bypasses the conscious mind altogether, but subconsciously the guy you’re speaking to will think you’re quite like him and develop a layer of trust or break down an obstacle in the road of rapport.

Make Use of Coincidences

In a similar vein to the last tip, listen for matching interests, opinions and hobbies throughout the conversation, and reinforce your agreement. The more you have in common with someone and express it the more they’re going to perceive you as similar to themselves subconsciously.

Accentuate similarities, and minimise differences. Don’t lie about it, though—dishonesty kills rapport. Simply focus the attention on the similarities and away from the differences.

Let Them Talk About Themselves

In a nod to Carnegie, most of the discussion on developing rapport will make it clear that one of the best methods of achieving this is to get the “target” (for lack of a better term) to talk about themselves.

People love themselves. It’s a fact they may deny, but it’s true. Except, maybe, those people who call themselves “emos” but I think that may be a self-deluding farce.

When the conversation gets onto the “target” and their personal lives, let it stay there and be interested in their spouse and kids and where they went on the weekend. Remember details such as their children’s names so you can steer the conversation in that direction at the start of each encounter to set a good tone for the rest of it.

Use Eye Contact

As you probably know, eye contact is important for the development of interpersonal relationships. Use it in conversation, but break it every now and then so as not to make anyone uncomfortable.

If you’re an introvert and not very good at making eye contact, practice a few seconds at a time. Hold it for three seconds, then four, and work your way up until you’re comfortable making eye contact how and when you please.

Diffuse Tension

While this next tip doesn’t necessarily help to build rapport, it does allow you to prevent your hard work from going bust. Learn to diffuse tension and prevent arguments from occurring.

Locate the source of any tension, swallow your pride and diffuse it—whether that involves making a concession of being wrong, or keeping off the topic. Save yourself the headache of an argument before you’ve even gotten to know someone.

The Test: How to Find Out Whether You’ve Succeeded

There’s a simple but usually effective test to see whether you’ve made a connection and how well it has worked. If you’ve been matching body language and voice patterns, make a minor change and see if they follow it. For instance, use an expressive voice instead of a monotone one—gently, don’t go to extremes—and see if they follow your lead. If they are ‘in rapport,’ they probably will.

Test as necessary, but unobtrusively and only for short periods of time so you don’t break rapport.

Some people consider these tips to be in some way dishonest or manipulative. Only if you’re trying to be dishonest and manipulative, I think. I’m totally against anything that falls in those categories and encourage you to use complete honesty and sincerity at all times.

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