Connecting with strangers doesn't need to be so intimidating.
Being likeable is a skill we can learn: it's about quickly developing rapport. Building rapport is a skill we need in many areas of our lives. It affects how we date (or if we get one!), our friendships, and our careers.
Some people are just naturals at it — the best sales people, teachers and businessmen are experts at establishing rapport within a few minutes. Rapport helps them close a deal, influence people, and puts them in a position where others want to follow their lead.
But being able to build that trust and connection with someone else in a short period of time isn’t a skill that comes easily to everyone. How can we get better at quickly establishing rapport with strangers?
1. Take a soft approach
One of the first things we subconsciously assess about a person when they approach us is “are they a threat”. The main way we make this assessment is body language. Approaching someone with non-threatening body language helps you to answer their ‘threat question’ quickly and gets them relaxed.
Approach a stranger:
- with a genuine smile.
- from the side rather than straight at them, if you can.
- with a soft open question, such as “How’s your day going?”
- with open body posture and your empty hands visible — no folded arms or hands in pockets.
- making eye contact. (Remember staring endlessly is a bit intimidating though, so look away too!)
2. Find common ground
You can build rapport quickly when you are able to find common ground with someone. There is always something that you have in common, even if it’s that you both have kids, or enjoy your weekends!
Things to find common ground on:
- Hobbies/ games
- Types of work: working with people, working outdoors, enjoying your work or not
- Entertainment/ movies/ shows/ music/ books/ podcasts you enjoy or don’t
- The event or place you are at: both at the beach, shopping, watching soccer at the pub
- Relationships: that you’re both married, single, have siblings
- Personality: both introverts, hate to talk to strangers, optimistic
Carefully listen for the common ground and make use of it to build connection.
3. Focus on them
Everyone’s favourite subject is themselves and their own interests, passions and hobbies. If you want to build trust and make a good first impression when you meet someone, it’s important to show you are genuinely interested in getting to know them.
“You have to be interested to be interesting.” — Johnny Dzubak | Art of Charm
Ask open questions. (Closed questions are ones you can answer with a yes or no.) A lot of people start conversations asking about what the other person does for a job. This can be a super quick way to kill a conversation or make an unemployed person feel judged. Ministers of religion, for example, have told me they often find conversation ends after they answer “I’m a pastor of a church.” A better question to ask is “How do you fill your day?” You get some fascinating answers that include interests, hobbies, and passions!
Open question examples:
- “So, what do you plan to do in your vacation time?”
- “What projects have you got on at the moment?”
- “What have you been up to today/ this week?” (Much better than “What have you been up to?” which is to open a time frame. People tend to answer “It’s been busy” or “Oh, not much”)
4. Be vulnerable
Vulnerability is attractive too. It helps people feel less threatened and trust you more.
The team of social skills trainers at Art of Charm say that the first step to building rapport is showing vulnerability by sharing a light disclosure about yourself.
“This is sharing an anecdote from your past, something about you that is embarrassing but light, playful and funny. This makes you relatable because we’ve all been embarrassed one time or another, and you’re also being vulnerable in disclosing that information.” — Art of Charm, Episode 415: Rappor
5. Laugh easily
Sharing a laugh with someone helps us to be more open with each other and connect more easily. Genuine laughter triggers the release of endorphins for the listener and makes them feel good (studies show we can easily tell the difference between fake and genuine laughter, so make sure it’s real!). We feel good, they feel good — win-win.
If you’re not the kind of person that usually laughs easily, practice smiling more to start with. Laughter comes more naturally when you build a habit of having a happy disposition (even if you feel a bit like you’re acting to start with). Getting into a relaxed mind frame helps too. The more you practice, the more relaxed you’ll feel. Over time it becomes much easier to smile and laugh along with strangers.
Building rapport quickly is a social skill that takes practice. Try it out in situations that are low pressure: chat with the checkout person at the supermarket, smile and make small talk in a waiting room, when you pay for your petrol ask the attendant if they’ve had a busy day, smile and pay attention.