7 Keys to Instant Rapport

People will not warm to your words if you don’t appeal to their hearts.

Have you ever met someone that you instantly liked?  Or have you ever met someone that immediately rubbed you the wrong way?  Of course you have.

For whatever reason, that other person did not know how to establish rapport with you.  And their lack of rapport skills may have gotten in the way of you two doing business together or even having a pleasant conversation.

Unfortunately, the same thing might be said of you.  You may not know how to establish instant rapport with everyone you meet.

It’s critical, because in today’s time-crunched world, you no longer have the luxury of spending days and weeks around one another, gradually getting acquainted, and eventually building some trust.  You’ve got to make things “click” now.  This is how you do it.

1.  Make an unforgettable first impression.

You don’t get a second chance at a first impression.  First impressions tend to linger on, even if they’re incorrect.

So make your first impression a positive one by exhibiting enthusiasm.  Smile and make eye contact when you greet someone.  Shake hands firmly.

Show enthusiasm for what you do.  That was a key characteristic of Tommy Lasorda, the retired manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  When he appeared on the Larry King show the night after his team suffered a crushing loss to Houston in the National League playoffs in 1981, you would have thought his team won.  When Larry asked him how he could be so happy, Tommy replied, “The best day of my life is when I manage a winning team.  And the second best day of my life is when I manage a losing team.”

If you project your enthusiasm to the people you are talking to, you will not only make a great first impression, you will also draw those people towards you.  I think it’s one of the reasons I’ve had a certain amount of success in my career as a professional speaker; people can see that I love what I’m doing.

2.  Find a reason to connect.

I learned this when I was 18 and spending the summer hitchhiking through Europe by myself.  It was a great adventure, but it was a lonely adventure until I stumbled upon this technique of finding something we might have in common.

If I came across another hitchhiker, I would ask where he or she was headed.  If I heard an American accent, I would ask which state they were from.  If I checked into a youth hostel, I would ask how long he or she had been doing that job and would share my experience as a hotel desk clerk.

When you are first meeting someone, look for a connector.  Perhaps the two of you grew up in the same part of the country or are both avid football fans.  Comment on that.  Instant rapport is built on a foundation of common experience.  So find one connector and then another and another.

(To get really good at this, you need to master “The Process of Connective Communication” that I outline in my new book, “The Payoff Principle:  Discover the 3 Secrets for Getting What You Want Out of Life and Work.”)

3.  Use the other person’s name.

People love it, they absolutely love it when you remember and use their name.

It happened to my wife and I a couple of weeks ago when we were attending services at a very large church on Maui, a church we had attended a half dozen times in the last dozen years.  And even though it had been four years since we were last there, the pastor, Dr. Marocco, warmly greeted us by name.  I was blown away.

When you meet someone, ask for his name.  And use his name during your conversation.

If she gives you a title or formal name, ask her what she would like you to call her.  Being too casual too soon can make a person uncomfortable.  Too much informality can be read as a lack of warmth and respect on your part. For example, don’t call Pamela , “Pam,” or Dr. Jones, “Dr. J.”  unless told to do so.

If you forget someone’s name, that can be embarrassing.  You could use my grandfather’s technique.  When he was about to talk to someone and could not recall the name, he would simply say, “I’m sorry, but I’ve forgotten your name.”  When the other person responded with their first name, such as John, my grandfather would respond, “Well, of course I know your first name, John.  I meant your last name.”  That way he got someone’s full name with a minimum of embarrassment.

4.  Identify an obvious strength in the other person and affirm it.

People love to be liked and admired.  So find a positive trait in the other person and comment on it.  It may be her keen insight on a topic, her sense of humor, her choice of colors, or whatever.

However, remember there’s a difference between schmoozing and sincerity.  People can discern a fraud, do don’t be one.

5.  Find a topic that turns on the other person.

There’s always something.  Bring up fishing, politics, or religion and my Dad will talk for hours.  Bring up computers and my typically very quiet, non-talkative son will talk, and talk, and talk.

On a cruise my wife and I were seated with an elderly couple, just the four of us, for three meals a day, for seven days.  My first attempts at conversation totally failed.  No matter what I asked, I got one-word responses.  When I asked about where they lived, they answered “Florida.”  When I asked about work, they said, “Retired.”  When I asked about children or grandchildren, they said, “None.”  And so forth went the entire first tortuous evening.

However, I was not deterred.  I believe the best conversationalists have an endless curiosity about everything and I am always curious.  My wife has even nicknamed me “Curious George” after the little monkey cartoon character.  And I know that everyone has a story they’re itching to tell.  I simply had to find the right topic.

I found that topic at our second evening meal. I asked about the work they did prior to retirement.  And their faces lit up.  They had been flower merchants in Holland, loved the work, and missed the work.  And thus started an intriguing conversation about the flower industry that lasted the entire week.

Of course, I’m not advocating one-way communication.  You will obviously have to tell the other person some things about yourself and answer some questions he or she may ask.  However, don’t go on too long about yourself as you are building rapport.  Turn the conversation around by asking, “How about you?”

6.  Show sincere interest in the other person.

I know it’s easy to assume that some people aren’t that interesting, and it’s easy to label some people as boring.  More often than not, that’s not the case.  They simply don’t know how to come out of their shell or talk about more than a few topics.

However, when you show sincere interest in the other person, he tends to feel safe.  He becomes more open, animated, and enthusiastic, which makes it all that much easier to show sincere interest.

In the process, throw in a little empathy.  Show the other person that you understand what he is saying or feeling, and let him know you can relate to what he is saying. People absolutely love it when they feel you “totally get” them.

7.  Come across as a winner.

The simple fact is people are attracted to winners, not losers.  So it’s okay to let your self-confidence shine through as well as some of your successes, without any hint of bragging.

It also helps to use a little humor, perhaps making yourself the brunt of a joke or some mild teasing.  When I’m giving a presentation, one of my cardinal rules is “never stay serious too long.”  The same rule applies to conversation, especially when you’re trying to build rapport.

When you ask highly successful people in business for the secret of their success, you’ll often hear them say, “It’s all about relationships.”  There’s a lot of truth in that.  And the good news is you can start building those relationships right now with these seven strategies.


How can you show more interest in what others have to say?  And what will you do about it?