Being able to get on with other people is important for anyone, but especially for small businesses and start-ups.
There is very little you do alone – for most things you need to work with other people, (staff, suppliers, customers, advisors, government agencies, and so on) – and you need to get them onside.
The first step in getting on with other people is to build rapport with them. If you don’t get this right, you won’t get much further so we asked author, Catherine Stothart to outline tips and techniques that will help you to quickly establish rapport with anyone.
I remember when I set up my business 14 years ago that networking and selling myself was something I avoided if I could. But I learned some simple techniques to make it a lot easier.
This article is about how to build rapport with the many different types of people with whom you come into contact as you establish your business, and the advice will be particularly useful for networking.
Why it’s important to quickly build rapport
We make up our minds about other people within a few seconds of meeting them, so it’s important to build rapport quickly.
When you meet people, make eye contact, smile, and be prepared with some small talk about non-contentious subjects, like the weather and traffic. If appropriate, some physical contact, such as a handshake, can build a connection, but be mindful of social and cultural norms.
When you meet someone for the first time, repeat their name (so you remember it) and use their name when you speak to them, as this makes them feel that they are important to you.
Afterwards, make a note of their name and the names of their partner and children, so you can refer to them next time you meet. Some people write these details on the back of their business card and look it up before they meet again.
Creating a good impression
We instinctively make assumptions about other people and whether we like them or not, based on how they appear – the way they are dressed, their accent, their tone of voice, their posture and facial expression.
The primitive part of our brains weighs up whether they are friend or foe. This happens immediately without conscious thought, but sometimes our assumptions are wrong, so it’s important to be open-minded and not let your first impressions colour how you treat them.
Bear in mind that they are doing the same with you – so think about how you want to come across to create a good impression.
Behave as if you are confident, even if you don’t really feel confident. Manage your body language by breathing deeply to relax yourself and stand tall, or if sitting, sit up in your chair rather than slumping.
Be aware of your voice, you might need to slow down, speak more clearly, or lower the pitch of your voice (especially if you are a woman).
Build rapport by mirroring and matching
A good way to build rapport is to match the physical energy of the person with whom you are communicating.
If they are coming across as animated and energetic, or calm and reserved, then matching their speed and tone of voice, their facial expressions, hand gestures and body posture, is useful (though not so much that they think you are mocking them).
Generally, we do this mirroring and matching unconsciously – you can often tell that other people are in rapport if their body language matches.
If you tend to be an extroverted person, with plenty to say, beware of appearing too loud or domineering – make sure you allow some pauses and ask some questions to give the other person the opportunity to speak.
If you tend to be a more introverted person, who likes to think before speaking, you may need to make a conscious effort to speak up and plan in advance what you might want to say.
Show an interest in the person you are meeting
Most people like talking about themselves so ask questions about them, their jobs, their family and friends, their hobbies (but don’t make it feel like an interrogation!).
Questions beginning with what and how will open up the conversation and are more effective than questions starting with why, as these can make people defensive and feel they have to explain themselves.
And there is no point in asking questions if you don’t show interest in the answers. Show you are listening by maintaining eye contact and nodding, and by asking follow-up questions, repeating back some of what they have said, or building on their ideas.
Avoid surreptitiously looking around the room to see who might be more interesting to talk to – they will notice.
Find common ground to build rapport
We build rapport more easily with people who are like ourselves in some way, so a core skill in building rapport is to find common ground, especially with people who seem very different from us in the obvious ways of gender and ethnicity.
There is usually something people have in common (e.g. support the same football teams, visit the same places on holiday, live in the same area, like the same TV programmes or music, have similar aged children, enjoy the same hobbies etc).
Finding something in common will build a connection between you and you can build on this next time you meet. Even when people appear superficially to be similar to you, you might find you have very different attitudes and opinions.
Avoid talking about contentious topics
In the first stages of meeting someone, it’s advisable to avoid contentious subjects on which you might disagree. People usually say to avoid politics, sex and religion and in the current climate, it’s best to avoid talking about Brexit too.
Finding you disagree on topics like these can break rapport and reduce the opportunity to build on common ground.
Be alert to responses
Being alert to how the other person responds to what you have said will show you whether they have received it as you intended.
If their reaction surprises or puzzles you, this is an indication that they haven’t interpreted your communication in the way you intended. Noticing their reaction gives you the chance to clarify what you meant.
Finally, at networking events, set yourself an achievable target (e.g. to talk to three people), and don’t feel you have to get around the whole room.
Often quality is better than quantity and there is no point in setting an unachievable target, that will make you feel like you have failed.
Taking the time to build rapport with the many people you come into contact with, is a really solid foundation for a positive ongoing business relationship with them.
About the author
This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Catherine Stothart, author of How to Get On with Anyone: Gain the confidence and charisma to communicate with ANY personality type which is out now, published by Pearson, priced £12.99. For more information about Catherine Stothart, see Essenwood.co.uk
More help on starting a business
ByteStart is packed with help and tips on all aspects of starting, funding and running your own business. Check out some of our most popular guides;
- 5 things you must do when you go self employed
- 10 advantages running your business as a limited company has over being a sole trader
- How to set up a limited company
- A Guide to Bookkeeping for new business owners
Funding your business
- Preparing to raise finance for your business – 6 Steps to success
- 5 Ways to unlock finance for your startup
- How to prepare your business for crowdfunding
- 6 Things you need to know before launching a crowdfunding campaign for your business
Promoting your business
- Making your small business a BIG hit online – A Digital marketing guide for small business owners
- 5 common branding mistakes to avoid making with your small business
- 10 Top tips for small businesses starting out with social media
- A Step-by-Step guide to getting started with Google AdWords