When trying to create a comfortable conversation flow, it can be devastatingly difficult to get out of the starting blocks. Even our best efforts can seem to produce only those awkward, choppy, long uncomfortable silences. Moreover, we know the clock is running in the prospect’s head. She is making assumptions, and worse, decisions, based on your ability to connect. Here is the rule for you to always keep in mind: open ended questions will elicit more information and enhance your rapport building instantly.
What you must always avoid are close ended questions: “Where are you from?”, “What’s your favorite sports team?”, “How long have you worked there?” These are close-ended questions and can easily net you one-word responses.
A good working principle here is to limit yourself to one or two closed-ended questions to get the ball rolling. After that, you’re moving to open-ended all the way.
In Doris’ case, you ask “Where are you from?” She replies Denver. You ask “What was it like growing up there?” or “What are the biggest differences you find in living here as compared to Denver?” You see the open-ended questions encourage more expansive responses. From these answers you will get more information, which will open up more opportunity to ask even further open-ended questions, and thereby establish a stronger connection.
If you have done even just surface research and utilized open-ended questions, you have no doubt found some areas containing emotional weight to them. Doris from Denver who is SBNY’s distribution manager is new to both the city and the company. Being new carries its own batch of emotional trappings such as fear, anxiety, excitement, and hope to name a few. As your conversation with Doris progresses you may notice one area where there seems to be more focus of her concern.
Let’s say for Doris it is improving the communication between her company’s information systems management group and warehouse supervisors. She mentions there has been a fair amount of finger pointing without much in the way of solutions. Now, communication improvement is not what you are trying to sell to Doris or her company, but you know this is important to her bosses and therefore registering fairly high in her need to make inroads here. This is a key opportunity to build rapport. What do you do?
First, make sure you let Doris know you appreciate the kind of stress she may be under. The use of an empathic statement would be a good start. Saying something like, “I can’t imagine the pressure you must be feeling. You just started, and this huge problem is on your plate.” This comment alone tells Doris you have been paying attention, and moreover, you are validating that she is under great stress to improve this issue. You have already separated yourself from the masses of people she deals with who do not take the time to actually listen.
FBI hostage negotiators are trained to be exceptional listeners. They listen for the person’s tone, pitch, cadence, level of intensity, and emotions expressed to name a few. Active listening skills combined with empathy are by far the most utilized tools used by negotiators. As an FBI Agent, I came across numerous people in a crisis state. When I demonstrated to these individuals I was truly hearing what they were saying, it made a huge impact on their demeanor, and ability to regain a more rational frame of mind.
Going back to your own mind mapping exercise, maybe you recalled a time when you had a particularly stressful task or experience in a new position. Would sharing this story and particular emotion you were feeling with Doris be a good way to grow rapport? Absolutely. In fact, our willingness to be transparent and candid with our experiences (making sure it isn’t in bad taste or off-color), and sharing honestly about our own missteps increases the feeling of connectedness, and even trust.
Building rapport is all about understanding who the other person is, and what they are going through or experiencing.
You need to ask open-ended questions to fish out those key details which will lead to more robust connections and conversations. All the above is accomplished by careful and active listening with empathy. The use of these skills will help you not only with client rapport, but with every relationship you have.