Coaching

by Jeremy Cassell and Tom Bird

Rapport

In order to influence anyone in a meaningful way (and coaching is a subset of influencing), you need two things: credibility and rapport.

Credibility

Don’t assume that just because you are a manager you have credibility with your people. Take a minute and ask yourself three questions.

  • What credibility do I have and with whom?
  • How do I know this?
  • How do I demonstrate my credibility?
  • How do I communicate my credibility?
  • How can I reinforce my credibility?

If your answers indicate that you do not have enough credibility, perhaps you should seek coaching on improving it.

Assuming you have taken whatever steps may be necessary to ensure that you do have credibility, the next skill is building and maintaining rapport. If you have massive credibility or you are coming from a position of strength, you can get away without so much rapport, but in that case, chances are you are telling rather than coaching.

Do you have rapport with your coachee?

Rapport is about being easy with someone, identifying common ground and tuning in to what the other person wants. Here are some useful questions to reflect on when thinking about rapport.

  • How can I build rapport in my coaching?
  • How do I know that rapport is established or not?
  • What stops me having rapport?
  • What would need to happen for me to have more rapport with my people during coaching?
Exercise

Think about one of your team with whom you have a good level of rapport.

How does this happen?

Next, think of someone in your team with whom the rapport is weaker.

What are the differences?

When considering rapport, recognise that different people communicate in different ways. When you think about the person with whom you have weaker rapport, consider in what way their style of communication or way of being differs from your own?

Take some time out and think this through. Jot down your conclusions and then think what you can do to get more rapport with each member of your team.

Building rapport

There are some specific things that you can do (providing that you can be flexible in your behaviour) that will help you to establish and build rapport with someone who is different to you – perhaps a person with whom you haven’t so far seemed to click naturally.

The first steps to rapport are to try to match someone in one or more of the elements that contribute to rapport. By matching someone, we mean first of all noticing, and then choosing to match an element of their communication. In this way, you can create common ground with them so that they feel that at some level you are similar to them.

Three things that you can begin to notice and match are body language, the other person’s choice of words and their way of speaking.

Body language

How is the other person sitting? Are they upright in their chair or more laid-back? How are they holding their arms – are they folded or by their sides? If you are sitting upright and on the edge of your chair, leaning forward in anticipation, while the other person is almost horizontal and looking down at their feet, you may be communicating at different levels. How much of your message will be heard? Such a difference in posture can be detrimental to rapport and, therefore, to your coaching. See Body Language.

Words

Notice what words the other person uses. They might use certain words more than others. Examples of these might be words such as ‘exactly’ or ‘perfect’. Words are important to us. By taking the time to notice these and reflect them – just occasionally – back to the other person, you can help deepen your rapport.

Notice also the ideas within their words that are important to them. For example a coachee might say something that indicates they have a high regard for punctuality. If you shortly afterwards make some similar comment, it will deepen rapport.

Way of speaking

Does the other person speak relatively quickly or slowly? Is their tone melodic or more monotone? Again, if your style of talking is very different from that of the person you are coaching, it can hinder rapport. Think about being someone who naturally talks quite quickly and coaching someone who is the opposite. How would it make you feel and would this help or hinder your coaching?

Remember, matching does not mean copying every move they make or every word they say – it is simply an intent to match some element of their communication in a way that establishes and encourages a deeper connection and communication between you. Simply being more attentive to the other person’s preferences is likely to assist in deepening rapport as it will communicate interest in them.

Here are some other tips for building rapport with your people.

  • Ensure you distinguish between the times you are managing and the times you are coaching (for distinctions, see What exactly is coaching?). Genuinely engage with the person and leave matters of management to one side.
  • Find out as much personal information as you can about the person and use the information. Get on their wavelength.
  • Empathise with their frustrations (but don’t get sucked into the problems).
  • Allow them to talk. People like to talk.

There is more on this in the main topic on Rapport.