Conventional wisdom and long-standing apparent research like NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) and Dale Carnegie's book How to Win Friends and Influence People, would have us believe that building rapport is vital for influence, leadership, and getting what you want. 

Rapport-building tactics such as matching and mirroring body language, finding common ground, and showing genuine interest in others are offered as the conventional route to success through rapport. We're led to believe that "people like people who are like them."

This might be sound advice if you're looking to get on well with fellow parents at school, or you want a comfortable social peer group or nodding-lap-dog friends. But if you want to build a meaningful disruptive business, grow and manage large teams of diverse individuals, and organize them towards a common corporate goal, rapport will likely fail you.

I used to spend 10 minutes building rapport and making my guests feel comfortable on my #Disruptors podcast interviews. And I've done 1,000 of them! I found that led to making friends and semi-boring podcast interviews. And it burned 10 valuable minutes twice a week. I now jump right in with a pattern-interrupting, challenging first question. 

Ten minutes multiplied by 1,000 episodes is a lot of wasted minutes I can never get back. 


A place you certainly do not want to spend time building rapport is when conducting interviews. You want your candidate to feel uncomfortable at times. You want to see how they handle pressure. One great example of this is interviewing salespeople and rejecting them live in the interview process. After all, they will experience it 20 times a day on the sales floor. Rapport makes that harder for you to do, and for them to believe you. You need to make them uncomfortable. 

I'm no longer interested in building rapport but I am interested in hiring great candidates who want to get the job done, be the best, can take rejection, and don't care about being liked. 

When I conduct interviews for my podcast, I want them to be great. Great interviews contain challenges and, occasionally, awkwardness. That kind of interview can be harder to deliver if I'm focused on building rapport. I'm interested in my listeners and viewers getting the best value and the highest-quality experience from the best product I can produce. The right people will like me, and the wrong people will not. 

As a leader

Great leaders aren't liked by everyone. Great leaders are respected. Rapport creates liking; doing hard things and making tough decisions well creates respect. 

Great leaders are busy changing the world, or building a meaningful enterprise or mission. They don't have the time required to build rapport, or to match, mirror, and build common ground with everyone they meet.

And the more rapport you have with people, the harder it is to lead them and task them. It can be harder to let your underperforming staff go if you've built rapport, if you like them and they like you. That rapport can obstruct your judgment and cloud your vision in making good decisions. You may not manage staff well enough, or hard enough, or you may not let them go early enough. You may not hold them accountable often enough or stringently enough.

You'll be concerned you might upset them and break rapport. They will feel too comfortable with you and take liberties, and not do the jobs you ask them to do. With no rapport to break, you can crack on and get the job done without being overly sensitive or diluting your message.

Freeing yourself of the need to be liked allows you to make the hard and right decisions, unencumbered with worries over other people's reactions and responses. You are free to do what is right, not what is popular. Accepting that you will risk upsetting others, and not wasting time trying to avoid it, moves you from striving to be liked to being respected -- and even admired.

Challenge and discomfort are what create growth and progress, leaders, movers and shakers, and change makers. 

And the world needs many more of those kinds of people right now.

If you don't risk anything, you risk everything.