Communication: Start with awareness

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Q. How do I establish rapport with clients when it doesn’t happen naturally?

A. We all sometimes feel very connected to people, even in cases when we’ve just met. Unfortunately, we also know the other side—sometimes we just don’t have two words to say to each other. Have you ever wondered why that happens? Is there anything you can do to turn it around when the connection isn’t there?

In a professional conversation, such as when you’re speaking with clients, useful answers to these questions have big payoffs. (Disclaimer: This is a big topic so please forgive the oversimplification.)

At any given moment, our disposition toward conversational partners is a function of how we process our perceptions of them. This process has two major parts: 1) How much we value what they’re saying; and 2) our comfort with how they behave with regard to four major factors: challenge, change, codes of conduct, and connection (with other people.) If our values and conditioned behaviors align, we feel at ease and experience feelings of goodwill. When these factors don’t match our preferences, we feel uncomfortable and lose interest/goodwill.

So what to do? Two assumptions derail our efforts to bridge the rapport gap. First, we think we are what we are. In thinking so, we abdicate our ability to adapt. Second, we all tend to assume that people think the way we do. We imagine they value the same things and we use empathy to put ourselves in their positions, figuring that they will respond the way we would. Not true. Especially in the cases when there is little natural connection.

Fortunately, if you are willing to pay attention, be flexible and put a little effort into it, you can connect with people you wouldn’t have otherwise. You can learn to adjust your communication style and the content of your conversation to better match the preferences of your counterpart. There are shorthand tools, including the DISC and PIAV models by TTI, Ltd. A little practice with these will make a big difference. But as with any growth process, it begins with awareness. Consider yourself aware. hme

Tom Dardick is a managing member of The Communication Gym. He can be reached at 888-984-3496 or