Whenever people gather in any social setting, there is always one person who becomes the primary center of attention. People want to be around that person, and unconsciously seek his or her approval.

In almost every case, the "most popular" person in the room is the one who is the most effective at building rapport, from his or her first interaction with others.

This ability to build rapport may be (and often is) unconscious, and even operates among people with limited social skills. At a technical conference, for example, the engineer that is best at creating rapport with fellow engineers will be the center of the discussion group.

While rapport building comes naturally to some, however, it is a mistake to believe that its something that can’t be consciously developed.  Rapport building, like all human relationship skills, can be learned and taught.

According to Dr. Earl Taylor, president of Dale Carnegie Training's North Carolina practice, the key to doing building rapport is to draw upon other experiences in your life where rapport-building came naturally.

Treat Others as Honored Guests

Some people mistakenly believe that business conversations go more smoothly if they begin with reference to a shared cultural experience, such as a recent sporting event. Far from being sure-fire rapport-builders, such remarks can often fall flat.

For example, there are some people (I'm one of them) who have absolutely no interest in sports. (True story: I once wondered aloud–on a radio program of all places–whether a basketball game might be canceled because it was raining outside.) But even if the other person is a sport fan: Yeah, you might have a conversation about your favorite team–but it's a conversation the other person could have had with anyone.

According to Taylor, it's far more effective, when you meet somebody for the first time, to visualize that person as an honored guest in your home.  If you’re like most people, when you welcome guests into your home, you are glad to see them and want them feel welcome and at ease.

While the specifics of what you might say in a business situation are different from what you might say to a house guest, if the motivation and attitude behind the words are the same, they'll get the same result.

Just as you graciously make your guest comfortable, when you meet with a customer or colleague, find the place inside yourself that is truly grateful to have this opportunity to spend time with this individual, and to be of service.

Conversations That Build Friendships

After that initial greeting, open the conversation with a remark that lets the other person know that you have put some thought into the other person's concerns and issues.  Then follow with a question that leads toward a conversation.

For example, you might begin a meeting with a technical expert by mentioning that you heard the expert had recently presented a paper at a technical conference.  Then ask a question like: "What kind of response did you get?”

The specific content of your opening remark is far less important than the hidden message–which is that you care enough about this person to take some extra effort.

When you're sincerely interested, the person you're speaking with will remember the feeling of being valued long after the specific subject matter of the meeting is forgotten.

Do this consistently, and you'll be welcome everywhere, because you're an expert at making everyone else feel welcome.