Critical Conversations For Dummies
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As you prepare for a critical conversation, building rapport and trust to set the tone can get the conversation on the right track from the start. Rapport and building trust give the recipient of the critical conversation's message confidence that the conversation will be successful.

During the preparation work, your agenda helps you open the critical conversation with the right words, but the recipient is paying just as much attention to your tone and observing the environment.

Define rapport and trust needed for a critical conversation

Here's how to define rapport and trust as they relate to critical conversations:

  • Rapport: Rapport is the environment in the room and the atmosphere during the discussion. When you have good rapport during a critical conversation, the room is free from unnecessary emotions, yelling, and arguing, and is full of respect and active listening.

  • Trust: Trust means that everyone believes that all parties will do what they say. You can often see trust by noting how willing individuals are to talk about tough issues.

If one of the parties isn’t cooperating or isn’t willing to make a change, step back and see whether the environment is safe for all parties and whether all parties are open and willing to trust each other.

Building rapport and trust needed for a critical conversation

So how do you build trust and rapport? Mostly, be prepared, keep a handle on your emotions, and enter the room and relationship with a positive attitude. In addition, to build trust and rapport, you need openness and honesty. Both of these behaviors are positive, and they set the stage for how you expect the other parties to act.

If you’re open with how you feel and what you see, others will follow. If you’re honest and do what you say and say what you mean, you build instant credibility.

How do you begin to build rapport? Here are a few ideas:

  • Let other people talk. Building rapport is sometimes as easy as asking questions, actively listening, and then reflecting on what was said. In other words, be present in the conversation.

    When you come to the table with a genuine desire to help, others will see that their concerns and needs are your priority during the conversation.

    On the other hand, one of the quickest ways to destroy trust and rapport is to dominate the conversation.

  • Observe body and verbal language, and adapt yours accordingly. People often trust individuals they feel most comfortable with; try to adapt your style to match, or at least mix well with, other communication styles.

    If the other party is speaking calmly and making small gestures, observing these behaviors and then mirroring them creates common energy. The goal is to observe and match other styles to put others are ease.

  • Smile. People often like being around genuine, happy people. If smiling isn’t natural for you, practice being authentic and content, and others will soon follow your lead.

  • Get moving. You can smile all you want, use common language, and listen like a pro, but in the end, people will trust you if you do what you say you’re going to do. Actions speak louder than words when you’re trying to tell others you can be trusted.

The bottom line: When people feel comfortable with you, they will be more open and trusting.

For example, suppose Jane is trying to find out why her employee satisfaction scores are so poor. Before the meeting starts, Jane spends time going through the survey results. She makes notes about what she agrees with and what she disagrees with, as well as creating a clear purpose for the meeting: What can she and her employees agree will help her become a better leader?

Jane: “Hi, team. The employee satisfaction surveys came back last week, and I have to be honest, my scores were worse than last year. I want to be a better leader for you. I’d love to walk away with three things I can do differently next year that would make a difference. Would someone like to start the discussion on what I can do to become a better leader?”

Brave team member Paula: “Well, boss, a few years ago you used to walk around every morning and say hi and see how our projects were going. Now it seems like we only talk about that in project meetings. I can only speak for myself, but I miss that casual conversation.”

Jane: “Thanks for the information. I know I tend to spend more time responding to e-mails and being on conference calls in the morning than walking around the floor. I didn’t realize that was something the team valued, so let me put it down as one idea. Does anyone want to add to that idea or provide another one?”

Team members begin to talk positively and come up with an actionable list for Jane and the entire team to work on in the next year. A year later, when the next employee survey results are completed, Jane gets a five-star rating, and she and her team continue on a productive path to success.

Jane does these three things differently this time:

  • She takes time to think about her own actions and emotions before the conversation starts.

  • She clearly states her own motivations about wanting to be a better manager, instead of talking solely about wanting to improve her score.

  • She keeps a positive attitude. She doesn’t say, “Why did everyone think I was so bad this year?” She asks what she can do to become better.

By preparing for the critical conversation and managing her own emotions, Jane’s team comes together to help create a better organization. Now, that’s a critical conversation that rocks!

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Christina Tangora Schlachter, PhD, is a Certified Professional Coach. She has created and taught courses on communication skills, crucial conversations for new managers, communication for professionals, and dealing with difficult conversations. She is the coauthor of Leading Business Change For Dummies and is the Chief Leader of She Leads.

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