How to Build Rapport to Get Better Negotiated Results Part I

Are you one of those people who can instantly connect with others? Are you able to build a sense of trust and connection with ease? If so, you’re positioned to be a highly effective negotiator. If not, don’t fret. Contrary to popular belief, rapport-building is not an elusive gift you’re either born with or destined to do without forever. Stay tuned to uncover tips and tools to help you better build rapport so you can negotiate your best life.

All of life is a negotiation. Rapport-building is one of the foundational elements of effective negotiating. It’s one of 6 key skill sets that make and mark the most effective negotiators. And yet, until recently, it has received little attention in negotiation circles. In fact, our conditioned understanding of negotiation frames it as a competition. This win/lose mentality causes us to focus on elements that are actually counter-productive to getting better outcomes, buy-in, and relationships.

Let’s dig in to up-level our understanding of how to build rapport so we can get better negotiated results. In this two-part series, we’ll uncover some of the top strategies to better build the rapport necessary for best negotiated outcomes. In this Part I, we’ll unpack some of the foundational elements for setting the stage to build rapport. In Part II, we’ll dig into some specific strategies as the negotiation progresses.

Rapport is an emotional connection with others. Building rapport is the process of establishing that connection. This can be instant in some cases or may take time to develop. It can also grow naturally or you can intentionally build it. Ideally you want to both build rapport and to stimulate it.

Here are some top tips and tools to help you on the path to improving your ability to build rapport:

I           Be Yourself

Oscar Wilde is oft-quoted for his quip, “Be yourself – everyone else is taken.”

Sage advice that still holds … in life generally and in rapport-building for negotiations in particular. Being real and authentic will always be more effective than trying to adopt a persona that isn’t natural for you. The other party will feel the lack of authenticity and it will create a discord that repels rapport and trust.

There are many resources available now on ‘how to’ negotiate more effectively and much written about tactics to build rapport. Studying these will certainly help elevate your skillset and improve your negotiation skills and outcomes. Having said that, don’t fall into the trap of getting stuck in your head, over-thinking the ‘how’ and in the process losing your natural authentic charisma. Practice the skills to build rapport (including those set out in this series), but always err on the side of being yourself as you work towards the new skills becoming natural.

II          Make a Good First Impression

First impressions matter. Most people have a visceral reaction to others within seconds of meeting. Make sure the reaction you induce is positive to the extent possible. Take note of your state before you start the negotiation. Release any negativity you may be harboring. Tap into a memory or thought that puts you in a positive frame. Once you get in the desire state, it will be easier to show up with a genuine smile, with warmth in your eyes, and an inviting posture and demeanor. This will help set the stage for rapport-building right out of the gate.      

Note that you need to be aware of cultural sensitivities, both in making a first impression and throughout the negotiation. Ensure that you are culturally appropriate so as not to offend and break rapport.

III        Find Common Ground

We often hear the advice to start with small-talk. While it’s true that you want to avoid jumping straight to business (which definitely does not build rapport), I’m not talking about leading with banal conversation about the weather. Try to find a common interest or connection. Maybe a shared hobby, favourite sport or team, college, travel experience, etc. Most people like talking about themselves. Show genuine interest to inspire them to open up. In so doing you will build connection and rapport.

Ideally, you want to find your shared humanity. Try to discover what brings them joy and what they’re passionate about. Tapping into that will increase your ability to build rapport.

IV        Get Curious

Tied to finding common ground, it’s useful to stay curious. We all seek to be seen, heard and understood. The more you ask open questions and stay genuinely engaged, the higher the connection you’ll build (not to mention the valuable information you can elicit to better understand the real needs of the other party to come up with creative higher value solutions).

It goes without saying that to do this effectively, you’ll need to release judgement and let go of stereotypes and preconceived ideas (about the person and their position).

V         Give a Compliment

A genuine compliment can go a long way. Find something you can truly acknowledge that you appreciate about the other person and share that.

VI        Use the Person’s Name

Try to remember and use people’s names. Call them by name early in the conversation. Again, people like to be seen. Calling them by name creates an immediate connection and familiarity.

Having said that don’t repeat their name so often that it stands out and jars. My husband, a small-town boy, uses people’s names repeatedly in his conversations. While it’s genuine and authentic for him, overuse of someone’s name is risky as it comes across as insincere and can actually undermine rapport rather than build it. 

I hope this has given you some food for thought on how you might better build rapport in your negotiations. Be sure to join us next week for more juicy insights. In Part II we’ll go deeper and tackle a host of strategies for making connection to get better results. 



build rapport, common ground, communication, cultural sensitivities, get curious, give compliment, make a good first impression

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