What’s wrong with treating people the way you want to be treated?  It’s the Golden Rule, after all.

The first year I was married, I bought my mother-in-law an expensive bouquet of cut flowers for Mothers’ Day.   We didn’t know each other very well, and I was hoping to build the relationship by wowing her with the gift.  When she opened the door, I handed her the flowers with a huge grin on my face, waiting to see her light up with joy and gratitude.

I didn’t quite get the response I expected, though.

“Nice flowers,” she said calmly, “but cut flowers are such a waste.  Give me a good pot plant any day.”

The next year I gave her a cheap pot of chrysanthemums that I picked up from a petrol station on the way to her house and she was in Mothers’ Day heaven.

If you want to build rapport

Respecting what other people like and value is the key to building trust and rapport.

Rapport happens when someone feels a sense of familiarity, trust, and openness with you, and that doesn’t happen when you treat them the way YOU want to be treated.  It happens when you treat them the way THEY want to be treated.

You can’t lead someone who doesn’t trust you.  Without rapport what you get is resistance.  And you don’t want resistance.  You want influence.

Here are 6 tips for building rapport and helping people be comfortable with you, fast.

Ask questions

If you want to break rapport with someone, hog the limelight, talk about yourself, and don’t be interested in what the other person’s got to say.

If you want to build rapport, though, be interested in the other person.  Ask them questions.  Get them talking about themself.  It’s been said of Bill Clinton, former US President, that he was able to make every person he spoke to feel like they were the only person in the room because he showed an interest in them.

Control your energy

If you meet someone who is in a sombre mood, and you’re bouncing around like a happy little puppy, you’re not going to build rapport with them.  You’re going to be annoying.

Adjust your energy levels down or up and meet the other person halfway.

Match their tempo

You talk a mile a minute, and you meet someone who speaks slowly and deliberately.  You’re both going to feel uncomfortable, so why not slow your speech down just a little in order to make the other person a little more comfortable.  We all like people who are like us, so try to take the edge of glaring differences like how quickly or slowly you tend to hold conversations.

Pay attention to detail levels

The ideas in a conversation can run anywhere along a continuum of detail, from very vague to very specific.  The vague or abstract end of the continuum is big picture, conceptual stuff while the specific level of the continuum is about nitty gritty detail that includes all the nuts and bolts.

If you’re talking about huge concepts and big picture strategies, and the other person’s talking detail and specifics, there’s a mismatch between that will get in the way of building rapport.  Notice how specific or abstract the other person’s being and speak at the continuum level that they’re at.

Reflect their words

I had a complete conversation with a guy where I simply reflected back what he was saying every once in a while. He’d give me lots of detail about a topic and then say, “I’m finding it really frustrating,” and I would say “So it’s been frustrating, has it.”  He’d agree, and then provide more information.

At the end of this conversation the guy thanked me for being the first person in a long time to just listen to him and not try to tell him what to do.  He felt completely validated and not judged, because all I did was reflect his words.  The rapport level between us was strong.

Respect their values

Values are things that people hold to be true and important.  For example, you might not care if someone rocks up a few minutes late for a meeting with you, but your colleague would go berserk if anyone was late.  That’s because your colleague values punctuality.

To maintain rapport with your colleague, you’d want to make sure you showed up on time to meetings with him, and if you were going to be late, you’d contact him before, wherever possible, and genuinely apologise when you got there.

For leaders who want people to follow without feeling like they’re being dragged along, the ability to build rapport is an absolute must.   Because it’s only once someone feels like they’re in rapport with you that they’ll be willing to follow where you lead.

And sometimes all it takes is a cheap pot plant.