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Thursday, 2 August 2007

Building Trust and Rapport

An ability to establish rapport and maintain trust is a crucial 'soft skill' - particularly for internal or external consultants, advisers, customer service staff, negotiators, or project team members. Without trust and rapport, your attempts to influence will be severely hampered, and your ability to work collaboratively will be diminished.


This was really brought home to me recently when I received a sales call from a company who we have been advertising with for a couple of years. (They shall, of course remain nameless, but if you're reading this C, you'll know who you are...!) Anyway, in a nutshell, we'd agreed to advertise on their new website 2 years ago, with promises of great things (first mistake!). At the end of the first 12 months, no results - no enquiries, no stats to back up exposure... nothing. So we were told it was probably because we hadn't paid enough and needed to enhance our entry. "OK" I eventually said... lets try again... so I paid slightly more for a second try (second mistake!). 12 months on, and I receive the call asking for a renewal again. "Well" I say, "We still have had no response - my own website stats show no links from your site to ours." He went away and gathered some of his own stats: just over 300 people had seen our information on their site in the past year. His suggestion...? "You're obviously not getting enough exposure, so how about you double your investment and you'll be more likely to get some results...?"

Of course I was a little naive to accept the suggestion to keep trying a year ago for the same fee, but to double it this year!! I was horrified. He explained that there are no guarantees - I didn't say it, but I thought to myself: "Yes there are, there's a guarantee that I won't be paying you another penny, and unless I get something to show for my money over the past two years, I am guaranteed not to endorse your company to any of my associates...!"

I told him it was like telling someone who is losing at roulette to double their stake as this will enhance their chances of winning. The conversation went on, with him trying to sell me more 'product' and me trying to explain that this was no longer a sales conversation, but a customer complaint. 300 views in a year cannot be considered value for money. Fortunately I managed to speak to the Marketing Director, and we discussed the situation in detail. He empathised with my position and said he wouldn't insult me by asking me to 'throw good money after bad'. The good news is that the company is now looking for a way for me to get some results from the money I've already invested in them. The Director took the time to find out what the problem was and accepted that a) I was probably sold the wrong product, and b) I had not received any ROI. It won't cost them anything to put the situation right, but they'll keep a customer and potentially turn me from a complainant to an advocate. What a RESULT!

I'm still waiting for the final outcome of the above scenario, but I remain hopeful. It required a lot of persistence on my part, but actually it was a useful experience and it gave me a clear contrast between two intelligent articulate guys, one of whom broke my trust and destroyed any professional rapport he'd built within a few minutes. The other was able to win me back with his empathy, ability to actively listen and willingness to accept where they had made mistakes.

Here are some tips on establishing rapport and building trust - see how many you use to create strong professional relationships at work:

Establishing rapport is an essential part of any conversation. It helps to build mutual respect, and helps to move people away from suspicion and/or ritualistic behaviour. Rapport building involves building empathetic and respectful relationships and having an awareness of conscious and unconscious acts. Establishing rapport is the first step in any face-to-face encounter, and an essential part of any conversation. When you know a person well, establishing rapport can be immediate. With strangers, more time and effort is needed.

Tips for establishing rapport
  • Greet people warmly
  • Maintain comfortable eye contact
  • Radiate accessibility – show that you’re approachable
  • Use peoples names (not too often, as it can appear patronising)
  • Match your speech to the other person’s
  • Be aware of body language – try to be open, calm and confident
  • Share a little information about yourself in order to form a personal bond
  • Select appropriate topics to talk about – particularly during your first meeting
  • Encourage the other person to talk – avoid interrupting
  • Pay full attention to the other person – listen actively
  • Be flexible to the preferred style and personality of the other person
  • Be sensitive to the occasion and environment

    When you are with friends, or in a social context, these skills are applied relatively naturally. In a work context, it is easy to let “professionalism”, formality or nerves get in the way. Remembering that colleagues are also human beings, with emotional needs and feelings should help to ensure that you apply the same rapport building skills as you would outside of work. There are a number of techniques that can be used to establish rapport, but they will only really be effective if they are matched with an inner commitment to use them appropriately and with integrity and discretion.

    Remember that too much small-talk can be distracting and can slow things down when there are more important things to discuss. Try to find a comfortable balance between setting the tone within the first couple of minutes, and moving on to the matter in hand. If you appear to be too contrived, you will be thought of as manipulative and untrustworthy.

    Trust is a reciprocal process that is at the heart of our willingness to interact with others openly and honestly. Our own experiences in life leave us with a set of beliefs about others’ intentions towards us, and this in turn affects how much trust we exhibit in others. Words such as na├»ve are often used to describe people who give too much trust in others and reticent and sceptical for those who show no trust. Getting the balance right is essential. A key factor of successful influencing is therefore to find a way of successfully getting the balance right.


    Tips for maintaining trust

    The following factors have been identified to encourage the trust of others. Clearly there are some that you can do less about than others, such as personal attractiveness or having a trustworthy role… However, you may find it useful to bear the others in mind when trying to demonstrate your own trustworthiness:
  • Demonstrating expertise, knowledge and experience shared with others
  • Having a trustworthy appearance (wearing appropriate clothes)
  • Being attractive to the other person
  • Having a trustworthy role, such as doctor, priest or lawyer
  • Developing an empathetic, respectful rapport
  • Being open and honest
  • Handling confidential information with sensitivity and respect
  • Keeping promises (only making promises you can keep)
  • Being fair, and avoiding discriminating unfairly or unlawfully
  • Taking responsibility for your actions/mistakes
  • Providing timely information
  • Being competent at your job
  • Being up-front and clear in your communications
  • Allowing people to make their own decisions (not being ‘over-pushy’)
  • Being comfortable with expressing an opposing opinion to your own
  • Displaying positive non-verbal behaviour, Eg: an open posture, eye contact, firm handshake
  • Offering unsolicited help with a problem
  • Listening to other people’s concerns, without judging them or their actions
  • Allowing people to involve you by providing your time selectively
  • Acting responsibly and professionally at all times
  • Providing timely information and/or resources to meet people’s needs
  • Providing people with honest feedback about performance
  • Sharing a business or personal confidence, but not someone else’s personal concern – that’s gossip
  • Keeping your promises, and only making promises you can keep
  • Acting consistently with your words – acting true to what you say are your beliefs

    As with rapport building, there are a number of ‘techniques’ that can be used to establish trust, however they are unlikely to work unless you have a genuine commitment to using them with integrity and discretion…

    • We'd be interested to hear your own experiences of working with people who either a) have a fantastic 'knack' of forging strong working relationships, or b) have lost your trust in them by their one-off or ongoing behaviour. We look forward to hearing from you!