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3 Ways to Build Rapport and Influence Others

Advice from a high-end negotiator who dealt with terrorists

For the past 25 years, I have been flying into conflict areas, primarily to Colombia. I sat down with drug kingpins at their ranch. I talked to leaders of armed insurgency groups. I walked the alleys of marginal barrios with members of death squads. I facilitated ceasefire talks between a guerrilla and the government. I listened to members of gangs.

I learned that building rapport is essential to success. I would have not be able to gain insights, understand a situation, and even influence decisions, were it not because I gained the trust of my interlocutors.

And building rapport is the first step to building trust.

It might be even get to the point when building rapport can safe your life. It was the trust I had built with a young man, the member of a death squad, that allowed me to learn that someone was planning my kidnapping.

Now, you might not deal with terrorists in your everyday life. But I am sure you have some version of an insurgent making your day difficult, don't you?

A few days ago, I was just talking to a father struggling to get a grip on his teenage son. Well, aren’t adolescents little insurgents attempting to upset domestic peace?

But also a demanding client, an impossible boss, or even the person sleeping next to you, can be someone difficult to deal with. Unless you build rapport, it will be impossible to make progress and influence others.

So, how to start building rapport? Here are 3 powerful ways you can do it (and if you want more, you can get my 8 Secrets of successful negotiators here):

#1: Enter the World of the Other.

To bond with the other, you need to enter the world of the other. When you argue, you oppose your position against the position against the position of the other. If you want to influence the other by building rapport, you need to step out of your own world, and gently enter the world of the other.

To enter the word of the other, you need to become a student of your interlocutor.

Be motivated by curiosity. Don’t judge, but try to understand. Is your teenage kid listening to music you can’t stand, especially when he or she is plying it out loud? Before screaming at them in an effort to lower the music, try to understand; learn what they like about that music, who they are listening to them, and why. You might just become an expert in hip-hop… who knew?

Let me share a little story here. When I was a teenager and my parents couldn’t stand the music I was listening at the time (Duran Duran, Madonna, Prince, etc.) and we had constantly fights about that, my grandmother started to listening to my music and ask me about the pop stars I admired. She was almost 70 years old at the time. Guess who had more influence on me at that time?

#2 Listen Actively

When a relationship or a situation frustrates us, we tend to talk and talk, because we want to get our point across, we want to make a statement.

But the best way to get your point across is actually to listen. In fact, listening is the most powerful way to build rapport and trust; listening creates understanding.

This not only means to refrain from talking, but also to quiet your mind. You need to mute your inner chatter, if you want to be present to the other.

If a glass is filled with water, you need to empty it before you can poor some wine in it.

So the best way to listen is to ask questions that allow the other to tell you more. Avoid beginning a question with “why,” but rather begin with a “what” or “how.”

Let me go back to the example of the teenager listening to unbearable music. If you ask your kid, “Why do you listen to that music?” you are putting him or her on a defense. Your child will feel judged and under attack. Instead, if you ask, “what is it about this particular singer that you like?” chances are that you begin a conversation.

#3 Get the Other’s Point of View

As long are you stay entrenched in your own position, you will have a hard time to bond with the other.

You can prepare yourself to have a constructive conversation, if you prepare beforehand (I always prepare myself before I need to meet someone, especially if it is for a mediation effort). Here are the steps you can take.

To prepare yourself, first, try to become aware of what your needs and intentions are. Maybe you don’t like the music your teenage son is listening, but what you are really frustrated about is the fact that you feel disrespected and that his friends (and their music) are now more important than you are. If that is the case, than your real motivator is not just the high volume and the beat of the music, but rather, at a deeper level, your desire to bond with your kid, to remain meaningful in his life.

Second, put yourself in the other’s shoes. How is the other looking at this situation? How is the other feeling about your own behavior, language, attitude? What experiences and relations are influencing him or her?

Understanding the other’s point of view, allows you to distance yourself from your own views and emotions, and get a broader understanding of a given situation.

Back to the example of the rebellious teenage. If you put yourself in the shoes of your teen kid, than you might see how he or she is struggling to fit, to find his or her own identity. And that your kid’s attitude, doesn’t have anything to do with you, but is part of your child’s own struggle.

Putting yourself in the other’s shoes helps you to shift from judgment to compassion.

And who is more influential? Someone who judges or someone who is compassionate? Someone who acts like a prosecutor, or someone who is a mentor and a coach?

Last word. Be mindful that if you want to influence someone, you need also to be willing to be influenced. And isn’t this what building rapport is all about? In fact, if you want to have a fulfilling and happy life, you will be able to integrate the values, experiences and points of view of the people surrounding you.

Don’t live by yourself on an island, as exotic as it might feel. Rather, build bridges by building rapport, contributing to the life of the people around you as well as learning from them.

Aldo Civico is a conflict resolution expert, author and speaker. He teaches advanced courses in conflict resolution at Columbia University and Rutgers University. He works with organizations, communities and individuals to enhance their conflict management and effective communication skills. Wednesday June 17, at 2pm, he is responding to questions of his blog readers during a free and live webinar.

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