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Stop Building Rapport and Start Connecting by Jeb Blount


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 being “on the same wavelength” as the person with whom you are talking.

There are a number of techniques that are supposed to be beneficial in building rapport such as: matching your body language (i.e., posture, gesture, and so forth); maintaining eye contact; and matching breathing rhythm. Some of these techniques are explored in neuro-linguistic programming.

Rapport is a popular and ubiquitous concept in sales. A module on rapport is included in virtually every sales and leadership training course. You’ll find chapters on rapport in almost every sales book.

Many thousands of books and seminars are dedicated exclusively to the concept of rapport. A search on Google for how to build rapport yields a million or so returns.

Despite all of this, rapport is among the most misunderstood and misapplied concepts in business. Ask 10 salespeople to explain rapport and you’ll get 10 different answers. Few people really understand the concept of rapport.

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.

In time, according to the experts, 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), which embodies these techniques, including word-pattern matching, eye movement, facial expressions and more, 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 get into sync with someone enough to influence their behaviors.

Although I’m not saying it is impossible for those willing to dedicate themselves to years of practice to become competent in NLP techniques. However, the reality is, despite promises from experts, these techniques are far too complicated for normal people.

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 it rarely succeeds consistently in real world business situations with real people.

This doesn’t mean that finding common ground is a bad thing. Far from it. The more we have in common with others, the easier it is for them to like us. If you find common ground, use it to your advantage to connect with the other person.

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 salespeople who mistake small talk at the beginning of a sales call as rapport building.

Taking their cue from misinformed sales trainers, they’ll make dumb comments about some random object in their prospect’s office as if that is enough to initiate a relationship.

Far too many sales people just go through the motions to check Build Rapport off their sales-process list so they can get down to selling.

Buyers are not fooled. They find these lame attempts at rapport building gratuitous and insincere. Over time, they become numb to rapport- building efforts. Some think it is funny. I have a friend who is a buyer for a manufacturing company. He has the ugliest picture in his office you have ever seen.

He keeps it there for one reason: to watch salespeople humiliate themselves by asking him questions about the picture in an attempt to build rapport. If you want people to buy you, forget about rapport. Remove the word from your vocabulary. Instead, focus on connecting.

The Real Secret Is Connecting…

There is a quote from Abraham Lincoln that aptly sums up why rapport as a strategy fails. Lincoln said, “If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.”

Rapport is designed, not to develop trusting relationships, but rather to influence behavior. Rapport in its purest form is manipulative. People who feel manipulated will be distrustful of 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 others over (convincing them that you are their friend) is to start and end by helping them get what they want.

The most insatiable human desire, our deepest craving is the desire to feel valued, appreciated, and important. The key to connecting and winning others over is, therefore, extremely simple: make them feel important.

The real secret to making others feel important is something you have at your disposal right now. It’s listening. Listening is powerful. Listening is exactly why Jennifer, from the opening story, walked out of that dealership a winner.

Quite simply, the more you listen, the more connected others will feel to you. When you listen, you make people feel important, respected, and heard.

Unfortunately, no one is really listening. I realize that is a harsh and general indictment of virtually everyone, but it is true. Why? Because we would rather think about and talk about ourselves, our wants and needs, our accomplishments, and our problems.

This is easy to observe. Just go to a networking event, business meeting, or sales call. If people aren’t talking over each other in their eagerness to express their own self-important point of view they are waiting impatiently for the other person to stop talking so they can start.

The vast majority of people, especially salespeople, never make the effort to sincerely listen to others. People don’t like to listen because listening doesn’t make them feel important.

Much of the time when they are not talking they are thinking about what they are going to say next, feeling as most of us do, superior to those around them.

Trust me, you are your own favorite person. It is not your fault; it is part of being human, but it is a fact and it is a roadblock to building connections with others — especially in business.

There is real power in understanding this concept and using it to your advantage to build connections. The desire to feel important, valued, and appreciated is more insatiable than any other human craving.

Just like you, when people talk about themselves and someone listens, it makes them feel important. Although truly listening to another person requires self-discipline, selflessness, practice, and patience, it is not complicated or complex. That is the beauty of connecting.

Unlike the complexity of rapport, connecting requires only that you listen to your prospect, customer, client, boss, or peer.
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Jeb Blount is CEO of SalesGravy.com, one of leading sales website on the internet, and author of People Buy You: The Real Secret to what Matters Most in Business, Sales Guy’s 7 Rules for Outselling the Recession, and Power Principles.

*Key Points: 1. Go beyond building rapport, and instead trully connect with the other person. 2. One of the best way build a powerful connection is to do what’s needed so that the other person understands, and believes that you genuinely have their best interests in mind, and of course they believe you because through your actions you have proven that you in fact do.

-What were some lessons you picked up from the above article? Do you agree or disagree with any of the ideas shared? Use the comments section to share your thoughts.

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  • John Patrick

    Jeb, as always, you’re spot on.nnI’m facilitating a discussion on Sales Playbook’s Linkedin Group on the very subject and the responses have been great. The all boil down to listening and putting the other person in front of yourself.nnThanks for the validation!

  • John, thank you for being a part of our community here, and for sharing your thoughts & feedback.nnI hope you will continue to visit and contribute often.nnAppreciatively,nJosh