You know it is important to spend time meeting the right people and
developing mutually beneficial relationships with them. But that’s not always
the solution for busy training professionals. John Timperley gives his advice
on making the most of your networking opportunities
Influencing people, when you get the chance, is critical to your success in
winning the new assignment, or building relationships with those who can help
you achieve your goals. Some people appear to get along effortlessly with new
contacts, while others struggle to make the right impact. So what’s the secret?
In this article, I will reveal some of the techniques of the great
Creating great rapport is about helping the people you meet think they made
a good choice. In short, they must immediately see some benefit from investing
their time with you. You need to maximise those first few minutes they spend
with you, so that you can use it as a springboard to develop a relationship.
Use them well and the door will be open for you to build a solid foundation for
a mutually beneficial relationship. Use them badly and you may find the door
well and truly locked. The champion connector knows that they need to cover the
bases below when meeting people.
As a trainer you will already know that you have, at the most, 15 seconds to
make a fabulous first impression – and first impressions stick. We live in a
world where we have information bombarding us all the time, so we must form
quick judgments about people and things.
Do you like the look of this person? For the connector, the answer has got
to be ‘yes’ or he will have real difficulty building a rapport with his
conversation partner. Think of a ‘no’ as starting a 100-metre race 10 yards
further back than the rest of the competitors – it’s going to be hard work and
your chances of success are slim. Fortunately, there are proven techniques we
can use to give ourselves a head start – the key question is, do you do these
Smiles and panache
A smile shows that you are warm, open and friendly. A poker face, rightly or
wrongly, sends out a signal that you are serious, possibly cold and
unapproachable. A smile carries your personality with it, lights up your face
and puts a sparkle in your eye. Use it to say ‘I’m really happy to see you’,
even before you have opened your mouth. They say a picture is worth a thousand
words, so too is a smile to a connector.
The way you introduce yourself sends an instant message to your contact. The
words you use and the way you deliver them speak volumes about the way you feel
about yourself and your position in life. Suffice it to say, a downbeat
delivery shouts ‘boring’. Self-previews are the equivalent of surfing the radio
channels for one you like. Based on what you hear, you decide almost
immediately whether to move on to the next station or to tune in. It’s the same
with introductions. A poor one will have your contact tuning you out even
before you have got started.
Dale Carnegie described a person’s name as the ‘sweetest sound anyone ever
hears’. They pay attention when they hear their own name; they love you when you
remember it, and you make them feel special when you use it.
Some would-be rapport builders go wrong as soon as they utter their first
words because their whole attitude to the process is misjudged. They think
building rapport is about impressing the other with their innate charm and wit.
The ‘aren’t I a great guy’ approach seldom works, and is a high risk strategy.
The professionals take the opposite, and altogether more successful, route.
They become fascinated with the other person by asking them about themselves,
finding out about their family, their views, their experiences, their hopes for
the future – in fact, that both parties find of interest.
Seek to find out more about others and what makes them ‘tick’. Be interested
rather than trying to be interesting and you will both enjoy the conversation –
you’ll be building great rapport as they share information, insights and views
with you and its less wearing on your nerves than trying to roll out your party
piece one-liners in a desperate bid to entertain.
You instantly feel closer to people who have something in common with you,
whether it’s your home town, a mutual friend, or the love of the same football
team. It doesn’t really matter what, people usually love to have things in
common – they are in familiar territory and they like you for it.
The implication of this social phenomenon for connectors is obvious. Listen
for areas of common interest or view, and ask questions that will get you on
the road to shared interests.
If you don’t listen to what your contact has to say you will surely fail to
develop the full level of rapport possible for the situation. Connectors have
trained themselves to listen, not only to the whole of what their conversation
partner has to say, but also to tune into the big rapport building moments.
When they hear their conversation partner start to say ‘I think….I want…view
is’, they know that good material is on its way as they are revealing what is
important to them.
You can only go so far in building rapport if you don’t tell people anything
The experienced connector’s rule of thumb is to provide enough personal
information so their conversation partner gets some ‘hooks’ upon which to hang
their own questions.
That means matching your conversation partner’s level of openness – possibly
more if it is a relationship you wish to pursue (it stimulates the conversation
and signals sharing) and divulging less if you don’t wish to go any deeper.
This is all straightforward common sense, and it usually happens automatically
because people become guarded with folk they are unsure of. Nevertheless,
consciously knowing what you are doing, and why, is a valuable weapon to use.
Making contacts feel special is an attribute of all the great connectors.
That means genuinely caring about the well-being of others, and observing, even
stretching, the social graces in order to demonstrate that you like and respect
the person with you.
The connector’s red carpet treatment takes the form of including their
contact fully in the conversation, asking their views and listening attentively
to their opinion. Rapport builders make sure that their companion is
comfortable, fed and watered and administered the range of social graces
appropriate to the situation and culture, from refreshing their drink to
opening the door, passing the biscuits, to holding the umbrella – all of them
add up to you saying ‘you are important to me’.
Not every situation warrants a handshake, a hug, a kiss on the cheek or any
kind of physical contact. You need to be guided by your own feelings at the
time and the social ‘norms’ of the particular situation. Nevertheless, if you
do have to shake hands, there are some do’s and don’ts to watch out for.
A key aspect of building rapport is a good, firm handshake. Men’s handshakes
are usually firm because they naturally have a stronger grip than their female
Your handshake, rightly or wrongly, telegraphs a great deal of information
about you and your attitude. Many potential relationships have hit the rocks
before they have begun because of a weak and lifeless handshake, which the
recipient has interpreted as the attributes of their ‘co-shaker’. The accepted
protocol for women is that it’s better to go for a firm handshake rather than
weak. If you go for weak, you will be in danger of having your fingers crushed
by some of the more insensitive handshakers.
The Neuro Linguistic Programming gurus have pointed out the real importance
of knowing what space does to your rapport-building efforts. When you are
sitting next to someone and want to show them something, say a book or report,
your best bet for successful rapport building is to sit next to them.
When you sit opposite, the reverse can happen. You are eyeball to eyeball
with the other person – a position that adds formality and seriousness to the
situation. You have the space between you, with an invisible line drawn down
the middle of it.
Doctors have now moved away from sitting face to face with their patients
because it is a halfway between the informality of sitting next to each other
and sitting directly opposite each other with the desk as a barrier between
Connectors know that one of the great rapport-building secrets is to align
their body so that they are pointed in a similar direction to their
conversation partner. As a result, they and their contacts are much more likely
to view things in the same way and be on the same wavelength.
Top connectors have developed a ‘nose’ for whether they are in or out of
rapport with someone.
They have heightened their sensitivity to both the obvious and more subtle
signs of what people say, the way they say it, and how they hold themselves. It
is more than recognising a rebuff when asking for a commitment to action; it is
about reading between the lines of body language and noticing what people are
What is the red light which warns you that you haven’t got rapport with
someone? Simple, you will be acting and thinking differently to them.
How to get on to their wavelength
You can smile, use open body language, mirror them and use
touch appropriately to help build rapport, but if you really want to get under
someone’s skin, you will need to get on their wavelength. And that means asking
open questions about them, using language that they will identify with and
really find out what they want for themselves. In a nutshell, what makes them
Much of what is written in sales textbooks can be boiled down
to this: no matter what you are selling, if you are dealing with people, it’s
– Identifying what they want, and how you or your product or
service can help them get it
– Encouraging them to like you, by creating and maintaining rapport
– Giving them the ‘feel good’ factor that you are the right
The many thousands of sales techniques can all be slotted into
these three categories and, leaving aside the whacky and downright manipulative
ones, they will all contribute. But whatever profession you are in, recognise
these three stages and plot your position in relation to your key relationships.