I have never been a big fan or, in truth, much of a fan, of e-mail. I prefer to pick up the telephone and have a real, live actual conversation. Why? To get to know the person, or to get to know her better. Simply put, it is “building rapport”!

In a Special Report published by the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation, the authors discuss “Foster relationships by building rapport.” (Special Report ) “Rapport” is defined, “…as a state of positive mutual attention marked by harmony and affinity. When two negotiators share rapport, they feel in sync with each other and focused on the interaction.” (Id. at 1.). It “works as a kind of social tranquilizer…” helping the parties to develop trust in working with each other. (Id. at 2.)

Rapport is best built up in face to face interactions. There,

“…we engage in subtle rapport-promoting behavior without even trying, such as facing the other person, leaning forward, and making eye contact. Negotiators with a high level of rapport take turns speaking and show signs of understanding, such as nods. High rapport also is marked by a great deal of mimicry-of posture, facial expressions, tone of voice, and mannerisms- which often occurs without conscious awareness.” (Id. at 2.)

The authors note that the best way to build rapport is to have a face to face meeting. There is no substitute. Indeed, without such inter personal contact, the subtle cues that are used by us to build rapport cannot be gleaned. One cannot pick up a furrowed brow or a grimace in an e-mail. It is hard to build up trust with someone you have never met by phone or in person, but only via e-mail.

The second most important way to build rapport is to “schmooze”. Before getting down to business, spend a few moments getting to know the other person and allowing that other person to learn about you. Engage in small talk, be it about the weather, sports, family social events, or pets. Indeed, the authors of this special report note that they conducted an experiment in which one half of the participants engaged in small talk first, for five minutes over the telephone before engaging in e mail negotiations to buy a vehicle while the other half of the participants did not. The latter group had no phone conversations with their counterparts and simply went straight to negotiating for the purchase of a vehicle by e mail. As one would suspect, the “small talk”, even if only about the weather, built “rapport” which paid off. Those who engaged in this rapport building were four times more likely to reach a deal via e-mail than those who had not. Further, within the group that did not reach a deal, many of them walked away from deals that were actually beneficial to them. (Id. at 3.)

So, there is no substitute for the real thing: getting to know a person and letting that person learn about you whether in person or by telephone not only builds rapport but paves the way to a good working relationship and to reaching an agreement. To paraphrase one of AT & T’s very old commercials, the best business relationships are, indeed, personal ones!

…. Just something to think about!

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