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The Power of Rapport

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There can be great power in the connections we create ...

If you’ve recently had a conversation with someone in which you both connected clearly, positively and strongly – perhaps seeming to almost think each other’s thoughts at times – then you’ve experienced rapport. If you’ve met someone and perhaps shared a similar experience and marvelled at how similar your reactions were, then you’ve experienced rapport. And if you’ve ever had the experience of working in a team that was performing really well, then you’ve probably experienced the power of rapport.

We sometimes describe the experience in terms of “we just clicked”, or “everyone just got it”, or “everything just connected”.

Rapport can be an everyday experience that “oils the gears” of workplace teams; it can be a source of creativity, energy and support that unleashes individual and team performance. Without it, relationships, communication, thinking and effort can be strained and draining, or impoverished to the point of stagnation.

The meaning of “rapport” has to do with the relationships between people, with harmonious connection, affinity or accord. It’s the idea of being “in sync”. The more in sync we are with each other, the clearer and stronger the meaning and the connection between us, and therefore the more rapidly and deeply we can share information and create new learning. As a result, performance is more focused and unified.

“Perhaps the most stunning recent discovery in behavioral neuroscience is the identification of mirror neurons in widely dispersed areas of the brain,” wrote Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis in a 2008 Harvard Business Review article about "social intelligence".

“This previously unknown class of brain cells operates as neural Wi-Fi, allowing us to navigate our social world ... Collectively, these neurons create an instant sense of shared experience. Mirror neurons have particular importance in organizations, because leaders’ emotions and actions prompt followers to mirror those feelings and deeds.”

This is something they refer to as “emotional contagion” – the way moods and emotions, particularly those of leaders, spread through a group. That’s important in teams, groups and organisations because the presence of rapport enables the rapid sharing of information - including feedback - because people are confident, open and positive.

Thomas Crane, an executive coach and author, apparently coined the saying that, “Without rapport, feedback is just noise”. Goleman and Boyatzis support this with a study of two groups of people. One group “received negative performance feedback accompanied by positive emotional signals – namely, nods and smiles; the other was given positive feedback that was delivered critically, with frowns and narrowed eyes. In subsequent interviews conducted to compare the emotional states of the two groups, the people who had received positive feedback accompanied by negative emotional signals reported feeling worse about their performance than did the participants who had received good-natured negative feedback. In effect, the delivery was more important than the message itself ... Leading effectively is, in other words, less about mastering situations – or even mastering social skills sets – than about developing a genuine interest in and talent for fostering positive feelings in the people whose cooperation and support you need.”

Goleman and Boyatzis  suggest that the “social intelligence” that creates the conditions for rapport is expressed through things like:

* Listening attentively to others' thoughts and feelings * Supportively developing  others, including giving helpful feedback * Creating a shared group vision and bringing out the best in people * Actively seeking input from and giving support to each team member.

Goleman and Boyatzis note that their research “has confirmed that there is a large performance gap between socially intelligent and socially unintelligent leaders”.

Rapport is not just a pleasant experience. It has lasting implications for our own effectiveness and for the performance and wellbeing of those we work with everyday. The power of rapport is perhaps a great untapped potential for many teams – a potential that we can begin to tap through a few apparently simple, but conscious, actions every day.

Aub Warren

Situational Leadership® Australia

© Pacific Training & Development, 2013. Used with permission. For more information about leadership and team development, communication training or accredited coaching go towww.pacific.qld.edu.au or call 07 5553 6060.

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For resources on emotional and social intelligence click here.