Two European telecoms had an agreement to jointly develop a new product. Each had its teams of engineers working hard on the project, and they coordinated by email.
But something went wrong. The emails degenerated into heated “flame wars,” and the project stalled.
A consultant was summoned, and came up with a remedy: he asked both teams to get together for a weekend offsite, just to get to know each other. Soon there were no more heated emails.
“We couldn’t connect.” You hear that simple explanation over and over for why a relationship failed – at work, dating, just about anywhere.
Other people naturally gravitate to a person who connects easily. These magnetic people function as the emotional glue on teams or in an office, and are more likely to emerge as leaders. They are the bosses people love to work for.
Their secret is simple: rapport.
The three signs:
First, there’s full mutual attention. That sounds simple, but has become increasingly rare in this age of constant digital distraction. We are all plugged in to devices that pull our attention away from the person we’re with, and impose some other agenda on the moment.
There was an article in the Harvard Business Review on the “human moment,” admonishing us to put down our smartphones, turn away from digital monitors, and pay full attention to our colleagues and friends.
Second, there’s physical synchrony. This seems to happen naturally once two people pay continuous attention. If you watched a video of two people with rapport talking, and turned off the sound to just observe how their bodies move, it would look as though they had been choreographed. This is not imitation, but rather a physical responsiveness: as one body moves this way, the other moves that way – at the right time and in a harmonious fashion.
It’s a nonverbal conversation affirming simpatico.
The third sign: it feels good. Rapport’s emotional signs are pleasant emotions. Such rapport often occurs during routines people perform together at work, like joking baristas in a bustling coffee joint.
Being in an upbeat mood, researchers find, indicates a brain state where you can work at your very best: energized, creative, ready for any challenge – in flow.
The most obvious signal of good feeling: laughter.
Researchers at Boston University studied a group of leaders whose business performance led their organizations to nominate them as “stars.” Their interactions with direct reports at work were filmed, and compared to similar interactions with leaders whose performance was just average.
The most striking difference: there was laughter three times more often with the stars than with the average. It’s not that they were telling jokes. The laughter signified an atmosphere of relaxed connection – rapport.
The best leaders create an atmosphere of trust and safety, the milieu in which rapport grows best, and good work gets done.
Put theory into practice with the Leadership: A Master Class Training Guide. Each module offers individual and group exercises, self-assessments, discussion guides, review of major points, and key actionable takeaway plans. The materials allow for instructor-led, self-study or online learning opportunities. Includes over 8 hours of video footage with George Kohlrieser, Bill George, Teresa Amabile and more.
Illustration: Bryant Paul Johnson