Consulting Skill: How to Build Rapport Quickly

By | May 23, 2013

I saved $143 today.  I put my consulting skills to good use today – speaking with a customer service rep about a potential fine.  It’s a long story, but I made an somewhat innocent mistake and the government was going to charge me $150.  After some rapport building and explaining, the government employee reduced the fine to $7.   No easy feat.

Consultants are in the influence business – just like anyone who sells services to clients.  Essentially, we influence clients to do things that are in their best interest.  It’s harder than it sounds because 1) We are not that persuasive  2) We are not always that right 3) We might not know the other person very well.  4) We might not have enough time to explain it correctly  5) People are different (and some are crazy)

How do you build influence?  There are many people, books, and resources to learn the art and skill of building influence.  Two good places to start are How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and Influence by Robert Cialdini (affiliate links).

An easier way is to watch experts at their craft:

  • Children are persistent: When a child wants something, the nagging is ceaseless.  The sales cycle can last 3-4 years.   They just don’t quit.
  • Dentists have authority: When is that last time you said “no” to your dentist?  They have the expertise, and authority.   Like the old E.F. Hutton ad, “. . . you listen”
  • Spouses have relational equity: Like any good husband, I will do most anything my wife truly wants.  She has built up a vault of trust over the last 13 years.

Easier said that done, right?  As consultants, we don’t have the benefit of forming 13 year trusting relationships with all the stakeholders on a site.  We might not be perceived as the authority on the topic, and we certainly don’t have 2-3 years to nag someone in the IT department.  So how do you influence people on the client team, stakeholders, interviewees to cooperate and assist in the project goals?  How to get them on your side?

Horseshoe magnetRapport: Being able to build rapport quickly is a huge asset.  It’s a mix of friendliness, approachability, optimism, courtesy, and likeability.  You become a magnet.  Essentially, people are attracted to you.  You become worthy of their attention, time, and effort.  I think there is a correlation between consultants and good looks, but I am biased.

Example: On my first project, I failed in the task of getting some data from the client.  The administrator said it could not be done.  My manager went into that admin’s office, talked about sports for 20 minutes, and got the data as if had been lying on the desk.

In consulting, it is a combination of hard and soft skills.  The hard skills are easy to test for, the soft-skills are less apparent.  If your new hire cannot build rapport . . . you have a problem.  Although I am not an expert, a few rapport-building tips might be:

  • Be respectful.  This sounds old-fashioned,  I know, but few people have manners today.  If you are courteous and respectful, people will pay attention to you.
  • Be humble.  Admit you need help.  Be self-deprecating.  Be willing to make fun of yourself.  Give them the opportunity to help you.  It is disarming.
  • Be fun.  Apply a little bit of humor.  Take the edge off.  Have fun.  The government worker I had some good banter.  He made my day, but I made his too.
  • Be relevant.  Find connection points.  See how the local sports team did last night.  Talk about food, travel, sports, children or things important to you.
  • Be yourself.  Don’t fake niceness.  Don’t try to schmooze your way into their heart.  One absolute rule about clients: they know when you are lying.

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