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Rapport builds strong relationships
March 14 2012

Show your staff how to build rapport with customers and each other, and they’ll do their jobs effectively and successfully.

Highlights
  • Building rapport is key in any business, not just the hospitality industry.
  • Rapport is a relationship of mutual understanding or trust between people.
  • Having great rapport with your team opens up two-way communication and builds trust.
By Caroline Cooper
HNN columnist
caroline@naturallyloyal.com

How is it that we are able to just 'click' with some people, and with others, it's an uphill struggle?  Building rapport is key in any business, not just the hospitality industry. It has such an impact on our relationships, not only with customers but also with suppliers and staff, in turn making our job a lot easier and more enjoyable.
And of course it's important that our staff know how to build rapport so they can do their jobs effectively.

What is rapport?
Rapport is a relationship of mutual understanding or trust between people. It is what happens at an unconscious level that makes us 'click' and is enhanced by a perception of likeness and liking. It includes the ability to see the other person’s point of view (even though you may not necessarily agree with it) and is a vital element in any form of communication, including the business context.

Indicators of good rapport include:
• Similar body posture;
• gesturing in similar ways;
• same rhythm in movement and speech;
• similar breathing levels; and
• tone of voice.

Why is rapport important?
You’ve undoubtedly often heard "She was so rude,” "He just didn't seem to care,” "You don't understand,” or “I'm not sure if I trust him.” Rapport allows people the ability to relate to others in a way that creates a climate of trust, openness and understanding; it is a key part of building relationships in the business world. Having the ability to build rapport helps with:
• Customers: All things being equal, people will have a better experience being served by people they can relate to and are more likely to do business with people with whom they have good rapport. And by maintaining that rapport throughout will enable us to identify what our customers really want: to help us provide the best services we can, and ultimately increase the chances of continued business. 
• Suppliers: Be it your butcher, your plumber or your accountant, having good rapport leads to better service, puts us in a better position to negotiate when we need to and makes it easier to ask for assistance.
• Your team: Having great rapport with your team opens up two-way communication and builds trust. You'll get the best out of them if they feel comfortable making suggestions. Your team also will be less critical of ideas offered to them, and for you, it will be a lot easier to call in a favor when it's needed. Also, it makes for a more pleasant working environment all round.

Achieving great rapport
Think of people with whom you already have great rapport. What is it you do? How do you communicate and what do you talk about? All these factors can give us clues to the key aspects of building rapport.

But what can you do in business if it doesn’t occur naturally? You need to pay close attention to matching or mirroring (not mimicking) the elements that are part of natural rapport.

In Albert Mehrabian’s study Silent Messages, his research indicates that only 7% of our communication comes from the words we use, for example, the use of common expressions, terminology, etc.

How we say things—our tone, volume, pitch, emphasis—accounts for 38%.
And 55% comes from a person's appearance and physiology—how you sit or stand, your facial expressions and so on.

This means 93% of communication is unconscious.

So how do we make use of these factors?  Well, the closer we can match these (not mimic) to the other person, the more likely we are to build rapport.

Let's take a look at each:

Words
What we actually talk about and the words we use help build rapport. Listen for the terminology others use and try to use their terms rather than your own. This also helps show common interests, common goals and common values. So assuming you share these, let that person know, as these can help bond you together. A relationship with a customer will be easier if you share something you have in common. This doesn't just apply to face-to-face communication, it extends to other forms of communication, as well. Consider this in your marketing messages, on-site promotions and customer notices or information.

Tone
A part of building rapport is respecting the state, style and feelings of others. If someone is feeling frustrated by poor service, show understanding for that frustration. The biggest impact on this is our tone. Do we indicate an understanding for someone's complaint rather than sounding defensive? Do we sound empathetic instead of irritated? And if someone is excited or happy about something, do we show excitement or happiness, or do we dampen their mood by being apathetic and impatient? The closer you match the other person's tone, the greater the degree of rapport.

What if they are angry? Should we still match their tone? In a way, yes. What we want to match is the level of energy in the voice. Let’s put this into context. If someone is angry about something that went wrong, and they get a placid response, instead of calming the person down, it may actually make things worse; it could appear patronizing or as if the person isn’t being taken seriously. By matching the level of energy and concern in your voice, you indicate to the customer that you are taking it seriously. This will help you get into rapport more quickly. Then (and only then) are you in a position to lead towards a calmer tone.

Physiology
I am sure you have experienced a time when you arrived somewhere and felt instantly out of place. Appearance matching in instances like that can help build rapport. This aspect includes the wider and less obvious aspects of our body language, gestures and facial expression, and also can extend to our actions, even our breathing. 

Next time you are out, just take a look around you, and you can easily spot people who are in rapport. The way they stand or sit will mirror each other, their facial expressions will be similar, and the chances are that when one reaches for their drink or takes a bite of food, the other person will do the same. So to build rapport, ensure you match the other person.

Remembering that tone and physiology are more unconscious ways to build rapport, next time you are in disagreement with someone (i.e. the 7% based on words) work on matching the other 93%—their tone and physiology—and you will be amazed at the impact this can have on your ability to reach an agreement.

Caroline Cooper is a business and leadership coach with over 25 years in business and management development. She is the founder of Zeal Coaching, specialising in working with hospitality businesses, and is author of the Hotel Success Handbook. For more information and articles from Zeal Coaching see http://www.zealcoaching.com/products-resources/

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