Today I’m pleased to share a guest post from author Chip Bell. Chip’s latest book Managers as Mentors: Building Partnerships for Learning guides leaders in helping associates grow and adapt in today’s tumultuous organizations.
“Rapport” comes from an old French word that means “a bringing back” or “harmony renewed.” This definition reminds us that rapport is fundamentally about actions aimed at restoring the security of the bond with which we begin life. Life, for most of us, does not start with anxiety or fear. Life begins with security and trust. The path from dependence to independence teaches us about rejection, discomfort, and pain. We protect ourselves with the shield of personality (the Greek word for “personality” means “mask”) and assume that each new relationship is a threat until shown otherwise. The ritual of relationship is the gradual lowering of the mask.
The success of a mentoring relationship can hang on the first encounters between mentor and protégé. The tone set in the first meeting can determine whether the relationship will be fruitful or fraught with fear and anxiety. As the person who is usually in the driver’s seat at the outset of the relationship, the mentor must ensure a good start—the renewal of the original bond. How does the mentor establish early kinship, trust, and comfort?
Rapport begins with the sights and sounds of openness and positive regard. Any normal person approaching a potentially anxious encounter will raise his antennae high in search of clues about the road ahead: An open posture (for example, no crossed arms), warm and enthusiastic gestures, eye contact, removing physical barriers, and personalized greetings all communicate a desire for a level playing field. Mentors who broadcast power signals (peering over an imposing desk, closed body language, a reserved manner, or facial expressions that telegraph distance) risk complete failure to establish a good mentoring partnership.
Establishing rapport is a bit like courtship. You don’t say, “Hi, I’m Jill/Bill. Let’s get married. How’s tomorrow at three?” The perfunctory “How about a cup of coffee?” is certainly a well-worn gifting gesture. However, think about how much more powerful a statement like, “I had my assistant locate this article I thought you might find useful,” could be as early evidence that the relationship will be a friendly one. There are as many ways to signal benign intent as there are mentors and protégés. Find one that suits you and works for your associates.
Receptivity for Feelings
A good mentor establishes rapport through careful attentiveness to the protégé’s feelings early in the encounter. When people believe they are heard and understood, they feel secure and comfortable. Establishing rapport is not about asking, “How are you feeling?” It is about listening intently to ascertain the feelings behind the words—and making responses that acknowledge these feelings. As a mentor, continually ask yourself: “What must he or she be feeling right now? How might I feel if our roles were reversed?”
Receptivity to the protégé’s feelings enables you to provide a tailor-made reflective response that says, “I’ve been there as well.” Reflective responses can be as simple as a short personal story that lets the protégé know that you appreciate his feelings. Mildly self-deprecating anecdotes can work well, too. Above all, rapport is best served by humility and sensitivity. If you feel awkward, say you do. If you feel excited, say so. The sooner you speak your feelings, the faster the protégé will match your vulnerability.
These ideas about rapport are meant to spark your thinking seriously about how to begin this important getting-started phase of mentoring. However, you should also keep in mind that the main ingredient in the recipe for rapport is authenticity. The more you surrender to who you are in front of the protégé, the more at home she will feel. Compatibility is as vital in mentoring as in any other important relationship. How quickly and effectively that compatibility is established can make a major difference in how competent the protégé becomes.
Chip R. Bell is the author of several best-selling books. His newest book (with Marshall Goldsmith) is the award winning, international best-selling Managers as Mentors: Building Partnerships for Learning. Managers as Mentors is available on Amazon.com. You can connect with Chip through his website, via Twitter (@ChipRBell) or Facebook.