Five Ways to Build Rapport Online
Creating Mutual Trust With People You've Never Met
You instinctively know when you feel a rapport with a colleague, client or customer after meeting him or her face-to-face. You just "click," and have a sense that you share the same goals and values.
But, what if you never actually meet your colleagues or team members? Perhaps they're in a different time zone and you communicate with them online. If rapport is based on strong, two-way connections between people, and nurtured through empathy, shared experiences, and emotional intelligence, how can you and your co-workers develop it if you're never in the same room?
Well, now the good news – building rapport online is a skill that you can learn! In fact, you've probably already done it with your Facebook® friends and LinkedIn® contacts without really knowing.
So, here are five tips for developing mutually rewarding working relationships with people you'll never meet.
1. Show an Interest
The first step in building an online rapport with someone is to find out what motivates him, what he likes to do, what he believes in, and what he enjoys. Take a look at the Six Levels of Rapport in the table below for areas to explore when trying to deepen your relationship with someone.
|1. Environment||Do we share a workplace or live in the same town, city or region? Do we experience similar weather, do we have a similar background, or do we know the same people?|
|2. Behavior||Do we do the same things, share the same hobbies, or act in similar ways?|
|3. Capability||Do we share any skills or abilities? (For example, speaking a foreign language.)|
|4. Beliefs||Do we share principles, values or beliefs about what is important in life?|
|5. Identity||Do we share a sense of who we are? (For example, "a hardworking husband" or "a carefree artist.")|
|6. Spirit||Do we share a sense of how all things are connected, or how we're connected to a god or to the rest of humankind?|
The above levels were originally identified by Gregory Bateson, and developed further in the book "From Coach to Awakener" by Robert B. Dilts, in 2003. Permission to reproduce pending.
The six levels of rapport can help you to identify conversational topics that will establish your mutual interests. Levels 1 and 2 equate to the "small talk" that you'd engage in to break the ice at a face-to-face meeting: a brief chat about your journey to work, for example, or where you're going for lunch that day.
However, please be aware that each level of rapport represents a deeper connection than the last, so use your best judgment about what's appropriate for each encounter. If you're not already well acquainted with someone, remember the old adage to "never talk about religion or politics."
Also, don't dive straight in at Level 5 or 6. If you get it wrong, you risk alienating yourself from that person immediately.
If you're "meeting" someone virtually for the first time, be careful how you approach any of her social media accounts that you may have access to. Don't delve too deeply into her social media activity to find out more about her. If you know too much, too soon, you may come across as intrusive, or even creepy!
2. Be Trustworthy and Credible
Trolls and scammers abound on the internet so, when you're establishing working relationships online, it's best to avoid anonymity. Always display your real name instead of a handle (a fictitious online name) or login ID.
Have a friendly and recognisable profile photo, rather than an avatar, and be straightforward and honest. Don't fabricate a new interest or shared hobby, for example, as you risk being caught out and losing credibility.
There's a good chance that the person you're "meeting" with will have checked out your own professional profiles online, so it's important that they are accurate and credible.
LinkedIn is often the first port of call, so make sure that your resumé is up to date and your profile offers some conversational starting points: perhaps you have similar skills or share a previous employer. If possible, include photos of you with your co-workers or sports team to show that you're happy to work collaboratively.
If you're concerned about revealing too much about yourself, check the privacy settings on your social media accounts so that only the people you add can see your information.
3. Stay in Contact With Virtual Colleagues
In a physical workplace, quick conversations or coffee breaks help you to build rapport with co-workers. Try to stay equally as "present" with your virtual team members, as out of sight should not mean out of mind. Messaging services such as Skype™ and Google Hangouts are ideal for spontaneous, off-the-cuff online chats, for example about a piece of breaking news or how a task is progressing.
Establish ground rules, processes and schedules for staying in touch with your remote colleagues, and stick to them. If you're in different time zones, establish when you'll all be working, and be available during those times. Be reliable: you wouldn't miss a meeting in your office without informing anyone so, if you tell a virtual colleague that you'll get back to him this afternoon, do it.
Online collaboration tools allow you to work together on documents and spreadsheets in real time. Google Docs™ is stable and powerful, and Office Online has the familiar Microsoft Office™ interface, although there are many other alternatives to choose from.
Videoconferencing with apps such as Skype or FaceTime® can be a good substitute for physical or face-to-face interaction. Appearance, eye contact, gestures, posture, and body language are all important factors in developing rapport, and they can't be included in other forms of online communication.
Choose an environment for your video chat where you can be seen and heard clearly. Your desk may not be the best choice if you work in a busy or noisy office, as interruptions can be frustrating. Make sure that your computer network is reliable and fast enough to support live video. Rapport depends on meaningful and harmonious communication, which is hard to achieve over an inconsistent or unclear video feed.
4. Communicate Clearly
Unless you're using a videoconferencing tool, online communication means the written word: email, social media, and instant messaging apps all depend on it.
Always remember that good communication and using clear language is vital in creating online rapport. Words can be interpreted very differently in text than they would be in person – how often have you received an email that seemed angry or abrupt, when it was meant to be funny or simply concise?
When you are composing an email or other written communications to a remote co-worker, consider language barriers and cultural differences, and avoid metaphors or slang that could be misunderstood.
Pay close attention to the tone of your writing and how it could be interpreted by the recipient. Try applying the "mirror and match" rapport-building technique: if the other person writes in short, simple sentences or uses lists and bullet points, do the same in return. Just beware of falling into mimicry or parody.
Read people's responses carefully, to make sure that you fully grasp their intended meaning and are not just reading what you want or expect to. As Peter Handal, CEO of Dale Carnegie and publisher of "How To Win Friends and Influence People In The Digital Age," says in our Expert Interview, "Listen better, listen longer, listen more effectively." Or in this case: read better, read longer, read more effectively.
Emoji, or keyboard "smiley" symbols, can help to convey the mood or sense of what you write in an email or message. One New York Times blog post describes them as "a way to transcend the limits of one's native tongue to communicate with others worldwide."
5. If Rapport Breaks Down, Fix It
If you find that your online relationship with a colleague has broken down (messages may have become brief and impersonal, for instance), the first thing to do is work out why. Be honest and listen carefully to what she has to say, and ask if you've written something that has caused offence.
Put yourself in her shoes. If you know you've made a mistake or antagonized her, demonstrate your integrity and commitment by owning up to it and showing genuine concern for any difficulties that you may have caused.
If you know your co-worker is at fault, be magnanimous. Don't waste time and energy picking over the details of what has happened. Instead, focus on achieving the outcome that you want. Demonstrate emotional agility by separating the facts of the matter from the negative thoughts and feelings that it evokes.
Remember, there are some things that you should never say in an email. If you need to conduct a performance review or break bad news, and it's impossible to meet in person, arrange to have a video call. A perceived slight or lack of respect can damage online rapport instantly, and it may be difficult to repair.
You build rapport with a colleague, client or customer when you develop a sense of shared values and mutual trust.
You can build rapport with people online with the help of social media, professional networking sites, video chat and messaging services, and collaborative software.
Use these five tips to help you to create lasting rapport with colleagues and team members who you'll likely never meet in person:
- Use online research sensitively to find out what makes a person tick.
- Be genuine. Create an online presence that's trustworthy and credible.
- Communicate clearly and precisely.
- Be accessible, and try to stay available for your online contacts.
- If the relationship breaks down, don't fixate on fault and blame. Instead, focus on a positive outcome.