Learning to sell is a funny pursuit.

On the one hand, you’ve got these mad-keen extroverted types who get switched on by phrases like “got what it takes” and “never say die” and all manners of other self-baiting challenges. Let’s call you guys “group 1” (because we typically prefer being that number).

And on the flip side, there’s often the more reflective type. The one often abhorred by group 1, the one that wants their work to speak for itself and “be damned to those who don’t get me”. For the sake of this article, let’s call you guys “group 2”.

And what sits between the two groups, is any number of misunderstandings and misinterpretations of communication essentials to help people engage and impact their prospective audience.

Take rapport for example.

Building rapport is an imperative tool for anyone that has an opinion, wants to share it, and has an interest in not coming off as a dick. Knowing the mechanics of rapport help us broaden the range of people we can connect with outside of those who are exactly like us.

And of course that’s pretty useful in the world of business and selling stuff.

In his 1936 best seller, “How To Win Friends and Influence People,” Dale Carnegie writes about this tool called ‘rapport’. He notes that people are most motivated to change their thoughts or behaviours when prompted by people who they feel similar to and people who understand them.

Dale Carnegie

No surprises so far, right? But here’s where it gets a little tricky.

One of the most misunderstood messages about selling is the one around building rapport. And I blame Dale.

See, what throws people off – even 80 years later – is the connective nature of the book’s title: “How to win friends and influence people “ as if the two are the same thing.

And while NOT having rapport makes it pretty tough to get anyone to do anything you want them to, when you have too much rapport – you can no longer influence people either!

“Whaaaaaatttt??!!!” screams Group 1 from the depths of every sales book we’ve ever read.

Group 2 on the other hand, quietly already know this to be true.

How often have you had one of us G1’s come up to you and forcefully try to “win” your friendship by finding an unrelated common interest, before pushing our product on to you? You know what I’m talking about. “See the football on the weekend? Great, wasn’t it? Now, wanna buy my stuff?”

(see also: “The Secret Science of Engagement”)

And how did you feel about that?

Now Dale’s title may have been misleading, but it wasn’t untrue. Because for you G2s – were you influenced? Probably. In fact, you may have even bought the product that you didn’t want because of the social pressure you now felt as applied by your new “friend”.

The problem is that the G1 may not have even known what experience they’ve created for you. They may just have rolled onto the next game of friend-winning, totally content that they were doing it right.

(Hey, G1, for the record, you’re doing it wrong).

So why don’t we find a definition a little more useful so that everyone can feel better about it?

Rapport is the connection experienced between two parties when there is a mutual sense that the other is someone worth talking to.

The problem with trying to “win friends” is that you either fail and come off as a disingenuous try-hard OR you succeed and become someone that can’t be taken seriously.

Take a very classic sales environment – leadership.

There is no shortage of materials teaching how to be a great leader (some we’ve created ourselves!), but when it comes to rapport in the workplace, this is a big grey area.

Let’s rule out an old classic – the “tyrant” manager.

This is the manager who believes that tough love is the only form of love, and that it should be dished out indiscriminately. They might use words like “direct accountability” and “critical performance” and other authority-stamping sorts of words. They may believe that it’s more effective to motivate via the stick, rather than the carrot.

Then there’s the “best friend” manager.

Here’s the one who’s always “on your side” and “in it together”. This person will often buy into your bullshit when you ‘dominate’ the relationship with a tale of woe to get out of something uncomfortable. The problem here is when you actually need to be held accountable, it’s hard to switch into the ‘submissive’ role when you actually are on the wrong track.

There is, however; a very different level of rapport that exists.

In fact, the term “rapport” began as a clinical term to describe a state that a patient experienced when they became totally accepting of their physician’s instructions. This deep level of rapport was not foundered on their personal liking of the physician, or of some common interest in Justin Bieber. Instead, the rapport came from a deep understanding that the professional could deliver an outcome that the patient desired.

So what’s my point?

Whether it’s a definition thing, or a behaviour thing – you need to be changing something if you want to get more of what you want. Real rapport is NOT about talking a lot, or becoming insta-besties. Rapport is quickly establishing yourself as an expert, and guiding your audience to a desired outcome.

Rapport ultimately comes down to problem / solution matching. Your job is to become a master at communicating your value, but specifically to the people that require it. For example, I work with startup owners and sales team managers. When I train my clients, they make more sales. If I tell them to read a book, they read the book. If I tell them to build a plan, they build a plan. They do what I say because we’re in rapport. We’re in rapport because they get results from what I tell them to do.

It’s authentic, it’s mutually beneficial, it’s good business.

So whether you’re in G1 or G2, it’s important to understand the REAL superpower that is rapport. If you want to be in rapport with someone, start with authentic value and be willing to create it. G1, be aware that you’re likely going to get in people’s faces and it’s going to piss them off. Stop it. G2, there’s a good chance that you’re sitting around being all passive and allowing your potential perfect customers to go by without having their problem solved, just because you’re overcompensating, not wanting to be confrontational. Toughen up and get yourself out there – your customers deserve it.

There are some very powerful rapport building techniques and mechanics to trigger and cajole and hypnotise – sure. But why not try something else on (just like trying on a new jacket)? Why not focus on being authentic, and genuinely curious about connecting with a person. When you discover that there’s a problem / solution match – how wonderful the universe will be.

(BTW: this is also the secret to making attracting high profile, high net worth clients – turns out they sometimes have problems that need to be solved too).

So yes, the mechanics are powerful and we love to teach them in our training programs, but your intention will beat your techniques ANY day of the week.

Much love



(RELATED: Want to become a master at handling buyer resistance? Download our Ultimate Guide to Handling Objections and learn how to uncover the real reason they’re resisting so you can design your conversation to speak to their fears, desires and reasons to buy now. Download it here.)

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Discover Coaching Coaching Programs are tailored to each individual and align tactical, strategic and visionary leadership styles to reach both Professional and Personal milestones. DC is fully certified for the use of both proprietary (Neuro Linguistic Programming, TimeLine Therapy ®, Straight Line System) and authored custom programs (How to Boil an Egg, Million Dollar Sales Pitch, Mass Persuasion – Complete Sales Mastery, Coaches Collection).

David Cervelli is a certified NLP Master Practitioner and Coach with the ABNLP and ABH.

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