You'll never get a second chance to make a great first impression. Business leaders are constantly in positions where they have to convince someone else of an idea, win business, negotiate a deal, or network on behalf of themselves or their organization. Navigating the constructs of meeting another professional can be tricky if you're not armed with the tools to build instant rapport, especially given the fact that you really only have a few seconds to form an impression.
If you generally keep yourself at an arm's length emotionally (and even physically) from others, it can take longer than is ideal to get a connection going and build trust. But that doesn't mean you have to be a born charmer to win someone over.
From top CEOs to FBI agents, the practice of making connections with others is a learned skill. Here are some techniques used by rapport pros.
Watch your body language and tone
Examine any of the most wildly popular TED Talks and you'll discover one thing they have in common is the use of hand gestures. It relays comfort and has a way of establishing trust with others. This is actually very instinctual, going back to primitive times when our ancestors would gauge the safety of another based on what was in their hands (a weapon versus an open hand).
Keep your arms at a comfortable distance from your body, not too tightly held. And avoid concealing your hands in pockets, purses, bags or behind laptop.
Similarly, another effective way to build rapport and establish comfort, or increase it if you're meeting resistance, is to mirror the other person's body posture and gestures. We actually subconsciously do this to a certain degree. But in first-encounter situations, try to pay attention to mirroring nonverbal behaviors of the other person, as it signals you are connected, engaged and are listening with intent.
It's also a helpful trick for calming your own nervous energy, as the onus isn't on you to act any particular way to make an impression -- you're simply an observer of others. You'll be amazed at the cues you pick up when you're in tune to other's body language.
Similarly, be cognizant of voice and tone. In some cases, you'll want to mirror this as well, and in others adopting a more calm, cool and collected tone will better suit the situation.
This is a common tactic used by FBI agents in hostage situations. To calm the other party, they'll use a radio DJ voice, lowering their tone and talking in a more soothing, slow manner.
Ask better questions and listen with empathy
Let's face it, none of us really love small talk or get much out of it for that matter. To boot, it doesn't create for a memorable conversation. The best conversations are those that stimulate more in-depth dialogue or spark new ideas.
One way to do that is by asking a question and then a follow-up question. According to recent Harvard University research, those who ask more questions, and specifically follow-up questions, during a conversation, were perceived as more likable.
Asking questions does several things: It shows you're interested in the other person and actively listening. It gets people to open up and talk about things that make them light up. And it takes the focus off of you, which may seem counterintuitive when you're trying to impress others, but is actually more effective.
Don't limit questions to work, either. People in business settings are less often asked about their personal passions and endeavors, so their answers will likely come from a more honest place.
To turn an introductory question into a meaningful conversation, pay attention to moments when the person you're talking to shows a verbal or nonverbal spark. This is a sign they've hit on something important to them, so you'll know where to take the next open-ended question. Of course, that requires listening with intent and empathy rather than following a preconceived script.
It's human nature to want to align with those who are positive, confident and passionate. Studies show upon meeting someone, we're looking for evidence of confidence. Those first few seconds, we're evaluated on how we should be treated (equal, superior, or inferior).
How do you project confidence? The experts suggest making eye contact for 60 to 70 percent of your interaction with someone, as well as standing with shoulders down and back, your chin and chest forward and slightly up, and your hands visible with your arms slightly away from your body.
Find what is authentic to you. If the conversation or your mannerism appear too forced or disingenuous, it will be an instant rapport crusher.