Superhero movies make meetings look so easy.
Consider this summer’s blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron. In the opening sequence, Tony Stark—a.k.a., the Invincible Iron Man—zips around a battlefield conducting a flawless mobile conference. Tony, whose role with the Avengers is akin to a corporate executive, communicates clearly and crisply with his team, coordinating real-time execution that leaves the competition, the villainous hordes of Hydra, in shambles. Every exchange between teammates is perfectly timed and understood—right down to the witty repartee.
Yes, of course, that superbly orchestrated digital mix of audio, video and in-person interaction had a lot of help from clever scriptwriters and computerized special effects wizards. Still, fictional or not, the sequence makes a strong statement about the power of establishing rapport in meetings.
What does it mean to “develop rapport” and why is it important?
Developing rapport is the ability to create an “especially harmonious” connection. It’s a skill vital for all kinds of meetings from networking gatherings to high-level strategy sessions, and you could argue it is particularly vital for anyone who meets using conference calls. Rapport makes business communication of all types more efficient and more effective by acting as a platform for discussion. Establishing rapport between participants in any type of meeting enables operational tangibles, such as a smooth flow of conversation, as well as relationship intangibles, such as patience and mutual respect.
“Rapport-building is an essential skill for business development, job interviews, negotiations and other high-stakes communications,” writes columnist Caroline Ceniza-Levine in a recent post for Forbes.
And results don’t always come easily, Ceniza-Levine explains in her piece. Like the creepy villain Ultron, whose soothing voice and pleasant demeanor belie disingenuous intent, even well-meaning, experienced business people can make the mistake of coming across as “too friendly,” a sense that can erode rapport.
3 ways to build rapport in meetings
“Be friendly but stay professional,” Ceniza-Levine advises and offers a few ways to do it, which apply to all meetings, whether they are face to face or virtual:
1. Raise Commonalities
Mentioning common interests shared with other meeting participants is rather easy when overlaps are professional, such as colleagues who attended the same school, worked at the same former company or belong to the same trade association. But personal overlaps are a bit trickier.
Just mentioning your participation in a common hobby, such as running, can seem strained or out of place in a conference room. Make sure there’s a connection to the agenda. For example, if a co-worker runs marathons and the project being discussed requires patience, discipline and grit, then maybe introduce your own experience running long-distance events into the conversation.
2. Source Your Research
Avoid seeming like a stalker by explaining how you discovered commonalities in professional or personal interests. If you noticed a new member of your project team attended the same school as you did, tell your co-worker that you prepared for the current meeting by reviewing the LinkedIn pages of participants. Citing to a readily available reference tool instantly establishes business context and credibility.
3. Take Cues from Others
“If the other person seems keen to continue discussing the hobbies and other interests in common, then you have an invitation to continue,” says Ceniza-Levine. “If the other person laughs or jokes back, then you might continue the banter. If the other person isn’t responsive or changes the subject or tone, redirect your subject and tone.” And she adds, “Keep in mind that even if the other person seems open to going off-topic or joking around, you still want to rein in the conversation enough that you cover the professional business you are supposed to cover.
Much of rapport-building comes down to what Ceniza-Levine calls “mastering the basics – handshake, eye contact, poise, manners, content, delivery, listening.” And as our own blogger Christina Todisco covered in a recent post, courtesy can lead to more productive meetings.
So, maybe you won’t save the world from absolute destruction like an Avenger, but establishing a constructive rapport with colleagues just might save a lot of meetings from utter futility.