If you have ever heard the expression “doesn’t meet a stranger,” you likely know that the phrase describes someone who is unconditionally friendly and able to converse with anyone. Some people have this trait, and others wish they did.
I cannot tell you how many times a colleague has walked into work or sat down to talk to me at an event only to say, “Hey, I met your mother. She is so friendly and so nice.” My mother truly doesn’t meet a stranger. She seeks to find common ground with each person she engages.
Throughout my life, I have met other people who can walk into a room of strangers and emerge with the seeds for deep relationships and bonds. These people are open, vulnerable and – typically – great listeners. From these folks, I have learned several techniques for building rapport with anyone:
1. Shift Your Mindset to an “I Am Worthy” One
If you struggle with feelings of low-worth, you may have difficulty building rapport. You will wrongly believe that other people are better than you, and perhaps that you do not deserve to be in communication with them.
You must believe that you are worthy in order to share your ideas, challenge ideas that are incongruent with your belief system and banter with others.
If you want to learn the skill of building rapport with anyone, you must first examine how you esteem or view yourself. At your core, you are worthy. You do not have to do or be anything to be worthy; you are worthy by virtue of your existence.
You are worthy because you are living the human experience. If you can shift your mindset and truly embrace your worth, it will be easy to build rapport with others.
2. Ask Some Variation of “Tell Me About Yourself”
I recently read a fascinating article by New York Times reporter Jolie Kerr about NPR host Terry Gross. Gross, the host of “Fresh Air,” starts her interviews by asking subjects to tell her about themselves.
She says opening interviews this way allows her to avoid mistakes that places subjects on the defense. She is also able to learn, via their own words, what’s important to them. Conversationalists may consider doing the same way.
3. Look for Indicators of Shared Humanity
At our core, we are all the same. When I feel anxious about being in a relationship or conversation with people who appear “perfect” or are very accomplished, I remind myself that at our core, we are all the same.
Regardless of how much money individuals have in the bank, they want to be treated with the same dignity and respect that each of us requires for ourselves. They want to be liked because of who they are, not because of what they have.
If you can remember that, at our core, we are all the same, you will be better positioned to build rapport with anyone.
4. Identify One Thing You Can Appreciate About the Person with Whom You Are Conversing
I grew up in a very religious household. Our entertainment was going to church revivals or visiting my mom’s friends’ churches. When our church had events, different speakers with different styles would preach sermons.
I learned that regardless of who the preacher was, the tempo of the music for different churches, I could receive something from the speaker. As a young adult, I worked for a Lutheran social service organization, and my mentor was a Methodist minister.
As a result of these experiences, on one day I could be in an apostolic church, and on another I could be in a Lutheran church. One day, I could be at a Pentecostal revival, and another day I could be at a Lutheran auxiliary meeting.
Over time, I learned that it didn’t matter the race or religious tradition of the group I was visiting; if I paid careful attention and tried hard, each speaker and each congregation had something unique and worthwhile to offer.
The same is true in conversation. Separating the truly disgusting people who harm children or exploit the vulnerable, there is something to admire about almost everyone. Even your enemies have admirable traits. Even the colleague who annoys or triggers you in ways you didn’t know were possible has something that is worthy of praise.
If you approach every conversation with this mindset, you will indeed be able to build rapport with almost anyone.
5. Inquire About Family, Friends and Pets Only If Your Speaking Partners Introduce These Areas First
If you feel stuck in a discussion and are not sure how to make a connection, look for cues that the person with whom you are speaking is open to discussing his or her family or pets. These areas are deeply personal, and while most people gush when talking about their family and the animals that they adore, you have no idea what is happening in a person’s life that may make him or her less than receptive to tackling these issues.
Not every person’s life is filled with happy memories or experiences about family, friends or pets. For instance, there was a time in my life where I hated engaging with people outside of close friends about my oldest son, who at the time was living with his father. Being in situations where people assumed I had custody and then not knowing how to discuss the situation triggered anxiety and stress. I would get defensive or look for ways to exit the conversation.
I have also been on the opposite end where I asked what seemed to be a benign question about a person’s child only to learn that the child had recently passed away.
I offer these examples as cautionary tales – listen to determine what topics are within bounds and which ones are off-limit.
To have substantive conversations, you must research the person or persons with whom you are engaging. You should know what drives them professionally and personally. This technique is more appropriate when you are attending an event and have a sense of who will be at the gathering.
In the age of social media, this information may be more readily accessible than you expect.
Listening is an underrated skill. As a society, we are intentionally taught how to listen well. Even when we invite colleagues or friends out for lunch or dinner, most of us struggle with the urge to check social media, text messages or email.
When we are not distracted by technology and devices, sometimes we prepare responses while the person with whom we are engaging is still speaking.
Listening highlights how you hold the other person in esteem. Since many people are poor listeners, when you exhibit good listening skills, you signal to other people that you are interested and that they are worthy.
The respond in kind by having positive feelings about you and by wanting to be in conversation with you again.
8. Be the Person Who Tells the Truth
In my professional career, I have developed a reputation as a truth teller. I work to tell the truth in love and to tell the truth even when doing so carries some risk. I am learning that people in authority or in great leadership positions do not always have people around them who are willing to tell them the truth.
Honesty requires courage and a willingness to take a chance. It requires diplomacy and wisdom – and you must understand the conditions that make different leaders more receptive to truth. But many leaders can come to appreciate someone who they know will be honest with them.
If a leader asks you how you truly feel, find the courage and the words to diplomatically and carefully tell the individual the truth. This will improve your rapport with the leader.
9. Be Open
So many conversations at happy hours, receptions, conferences and events are transactional and shallow. I am skeptical that many result in genuine and authentic connections.
I think one of the reasons this happens is because everyone has a representative, the better version of ourselves whom we send to social events. When someone dares to send or show up as their real selves, the decision is like a breath of fresh air. And it allows others the freedom to shed the persona and the liberty to be themselves. This works in large settings, and it can work as a technique to build rapport.
When I advise that you be open, I am not referring to giving too much information too fast or doing so in a way that is irresponsible. I mean acknowledging where you are in the moment.
If you are at an event but are focused on a presentation that you have that went awry, say that. The conversation may go something like this,
“I really am interested in learning more of what this speaker has to say, but I am mentally stuck thinking about a presentation that I just gave that didn’t go according to plan.”
When you do this, you give voice to what you are holding inside and you let the person with whom you are engaging know that there are dynamics at play that impact how you are showing up.
The Bottom Line
You can indeed build rapport with anyone, and these tips show you how.
If you are experimenting with other strategies for building rapport with others, I would love to hear about them. Feel free to message me on Twitter or LinkedIn and share what you are doing and how it’s working for you!
More Resources to Enhance Your Communication Skills
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