Relationships are an important part of life. Without them, life can feel empty and soulless. When you have a group of friends or a network of people that you can rely upon, life is all the better for it.
For some of us, striking up a rapport with others is easy. They can hit it off with almost anyone immediately. They make it look effortless. So effortless in fact, that it feels like just about anyone can do the same.
The thing is, some of us find it harder than others to build relationships. The gift of the gab and social intelligence come easier to some of us than others.
Thankfully, it’s not hard to develop relationships with other people. I used to struggle with this when I was younger. I’d get nervous around new people and not open myself up.
This meant I struggled to strike up a rapport with people when I spoke to them. One incident from university sticks out in my mind. A friend of mine told me a few months after we first met, he wasn’t sure if I liked him or not for the first few weeks we knew each other because I was so hard to read.
This was a shock to me, as I’d expressed that through our interactions in those first weeks. This made me realise my relationship-building skills needed work.
The catalyst that helped me to improve these skills was travelling. Outside of my comfort zone, I had no choice to sharpen my skills and become better at meeting people.
Towards the end of my first trip to Australia, I was much better at striking up a rapport with people during the first conversation. Below are a few tips that helped me and will help you too.
Let the other person talk
This is one of the biggest mistakes most people make in conversations, they talk too much. I’ve lost track of the number of conversations where someone has dominated the conversation and I’ve been unable to get a word in.
Whenever this has happened, the moment when the conversation ended was one of relief. Far from striking up a rapport the person had pushed me further away from them.
The fix to this is simple. Let the other person take part in the conversation. By its nature, a chat with someone else should be split right down the middle. 50–50.
When you dominate a conversation you’re denying the other person the chance to express themselves. The domination comes across as you seeing yourself and your views as more important than the other person.
Conversations are collaborative. There should be a free flow of exchange between the two participants. Not one person striving to make their voice heard amongst a barrage of words.
One of the ways that many people fail to strike up effective relationships is because they’re too nervous during conversations.
This is a mistake I made during my first few job interviews when I was 16. I was so nervous about getting the job, that I failed to relax and be present in the moment.
You can imagine how this came across to the interviewers. I was stiff, awkward and didn’t come across well. Looking back, it’s no wonder any of them offered me a job.
The key to any successful conversation is to be in the moment and free of desperation for it to go well. The irony is that when you want something to go well, that desire can be counter-productive.
Relax and engage with the other person. You’ll find it much easier to strike up a rapport as a result.
This is one of the best ways to develop long-lasting relationships with other people. It’s one of the fundamental arts of conversation, ask questions.
By asking questions, you’re showing that you’re interested in the other person. You want to know more about them and you’re not just humouring them by talking to them.
These questions will allow the other person to open up and reveal more about themselves which will only strengthen the bonds between the two of you.
After all, everybody’s favourite talking topic is themselves. We don’t need much encouragement to talk about ourselves given the chance.
Asking open-ended questions shows that you’re listening. As the conversation flows you can ask more questions off the back of your first. In conversations, you have to suppress your ego and engage with others. Make them feel like the most important person in the world and they’ll love you for it!
Find common ground
During my travels, I found the best way to develop a rapport with someone was to find common ground. One conversation comes to mind when I think of this.
One night, the hostel I was staying in Brisbane hosted a poker night. A lot of people turned up and there were about eighteen of us between three tables.
One of the people at my table was English like me, so naturally, we had plenty of common ground already. However, as the conversation developed, it turned out we had much more in common.
We went to the same university, at the same time, and studied the same topic. Yet, somehow we hadn’t managed to cross paths during our three years there. Following the end of the poker night, we continued to chat for a bit and did the same the next day when we bumped into each other again.
While it was a huge coincidence to bump into someone with whom I had so much in common with on the other side of the planet, it made the conversation and developing a rapport so much easier.
We have more in common with each other than we realise. Find those commonalities and your conversations and relationships will become much more fun and watertight.
This might seem like a strange inclusion. You should laugh to build a rapport with people? Really? Is it that easy?
Those are all fair questions. When I say laugh I don’t mean laugh all the time or laugh at everything someone says. What I mean is laugh when appropriate.
One thing I notice about many charismatic people is that they will laugh when someone says something that flatters them or when someone makes an interesting comment.
Whenever this has happened to me, I found myself liking that person much more. Why? After thinking about it for a long time, I think it comes down to the fact that laughing in this manner shows they don’t take themselves too seriously.
It shows that praise doesn’t go straight to their head and cause their ego to swell. No one wants to be stuck in a conversation with someone who loves themselves too much.
Showing that you’re not an egomaniac and down to earth is a surefire way to build rapport.
Quid pro quo
The term quid pro quo refers to an exchange of goods or services, or more simply, a favour for a favour. This is common throughout society in acts such as gift-giving, but when it comes to conversations some of us don’t follow the principles we follow in other areas.
Like I said above, conversations should be a mutual exchange, not one where one side is dominant. When you’re meeting someone for the first time, it’s not enough to ask questions and elicit information. The other person will expect you to reciprocate.
Giving up a little information yourself, be it your age, where you’re from, or your interests is a useful way to further the conversation. It shows that you‘re engaged and willing to open up.
This can be difficult if you’re introverted but the benefit of doing so is great. It gives the other person more information about yourself which will help them to relate to you. Plus, it lowers the chances of the conversation falling flat.
There’s a reason we often refer to a conversation as an exchange.
Manage your expectations
I’ve written before about how your expectations can cause you to be disappointed when reality doesn’t match them. If you’re an overthinker, this can lead to a lot of disappointment if you’re not careful.
The best way to prevent this from happening is to lower your expectations. In the world of conversations, that means not expecting too much from the person you’re speaking to.
If you’re going on a date with someone and you’re expecting them to fall in love with you straight away, you’re setting yourself up for a fall.
A better strategy is to go into the date with the aim of getting to know the other person. Before you meet someone you have no idea whether you’ll like them or not. If you decide beforehand that you’re desperate for them to like you, or you’re not going to enjoy the conversation, these thoughts can manifest themselves and become true.
It’s better to lower your expectations, go with the flow and see where the conversation takes you. This way you’ll find it easier to build a rapport as you’re not trying to manoeuvre someone down a path you desire.
Robin Dreeke explains the thinking perfectly in his book, It’s Not All About Me:
Regardless of the situation, whether it is an altruistic intention or not, there is an agenda. The individuals in life that are able to either mask their agenda or shift the agenda to something altruistic will have great success at building rapport.
Building a rapport with the people you met is the best way to develop relationships that will stand the test of time. Humans are social creatures. We thrive off interactions with others.
These tips and little changes will result in a big uptick in your ability to develop strong social bonds with others.
By improving the quality of your conversations, you’ll improve the quality of your life.