Have you ever met someone for the first time and felt an immediate connection or felt uncomfortable with them straight away? Researchers from New York University found that we form opinions about one another in the first seven seconds of meeting. First impressions count!

Whether we like it or not, people do judge books by their cover. It’s not necessarily a person’s ego at work, but it is a natural human response to survival. When a stranger sizes you up, whether consciously or not, their brain determines whether you are approachable or need to be avoided – whether you are friend or foe.

When you meet someone for the first time, they make an initial overall opinion of you and make that decision through how you present and express yourself.

Several practical techniques can help you develop your verbal and nonverbal communication skills and improve your chances of developing a positive rapport with others within that vital seven-second window and in the minutes that follow.

There are three key elements in which you need to master simultaneously. These are:

  • Body language
  • Verbal communication
  • The art of conversation

Bernard Ross’s book about influence stresses the importance of aligning these three elements to build trust and come across as sincere and likeable:

“When you’re on the receiving end of this clash, you experience a phenomenon called ‘cognitive dissonance’, where the voice and/or body language undermine or work against the meaning of the words. Think of the ratios involved. Body language accounts for 55% of the communication. Voice for 38%. Words for 7%. That’s roughly 8:5:1. So if the words and the body language aren’t congruent, the body language is eight times more likely to be transmitted than the words. If the body language and voice are consonant with the words, the words become incredibly powerful and we experience that person as being sincere.”

Conversation Starters That Build Rapport

Not sure what to say during those first, few awkward moments?

  • Identify commonalities – You may have similar interests or beliefs, you may have grown up in the same area, you have the same skills or talents, or share the same likes or dislikes. Listen to what they say and communicate how you share the same thoughts, experiences, and feelings.
  • Share personal information and how you feel - You shouldn’t get too personal to start with, but you can help build trust and rapport by opening up to the other person and sharing information about yourself and your feelings

Key tip: Begin your efforts in building rapport with focusing on the other person. Show you have a genuine interest in them by asking them questions and getting them to talk to you

Body language speaks louder Than words

You’ll often read or hear me talk about the importance of body language. Your facial expressions, gestures and posture can be the lynchpin that ensures the way you intend to come across is actually how you are perceived. Be aware of your body and signs that may not give off the message you intend.

  • Does your facial expression convey friendliness, stress, irritation, or anxiety?
  • Are you tapping your feet (implying impatience or nervousness), crossing your arms (implying unwillingness or stubbornness) or biting your fingernails or playing with your hair (conveying uncertainty)?
  • Are you making eye contact without staring, or do you completely avoid meeting someone’s gaze?

Key tip: It’s likely you’ve heard me say before you need to maintain open and expansive body language. However, when building rapport, especially if it’s one-on-one, it’s important to try to match the other person’s body language so you don’t intimidate them or clash with their ego. What kind of verbal impact are you making?

The tone of your voice, the language you use, and the pitch and speed with which you speak also conveys a lot about you.

  • Does your tone of voice convey concern, enthusiasm, or interest?
  • Are you speaking at the same pace as the other person? If you speak too fast you can come across as over excited or too confident. On the other hand if you speak too slowly and softly you can seem disinterested or inferior. The trick is to match their speed.
  • What words are you emphasizing? “I”, “me”, “my”? You may come across a little egotistical. Depending on whom you are trying to build with rapport with, think about what words you should emphasize through your voice and body movement, for example “we”, “you”, “us”, “commitment”, “help”.

Key tip: Aside from the verbal impact that you’re making, what kind of impact are you making as a listener? The number one key to building rapport immediately is to start with the other person – show genuine interest in them by asking questions and listening intently.

Author's Bio: 

Coach, author, speaker, teacher and entrepreneur, Heidi Alexandra Pollard, The Communicators’ Coach publishes Value Ad, a free monthly ezine for smart, savvy professionals who want more prosperity, passion and purpose in life. If you’re ready to jump start your success, make more money and have more fun doing it then get your FREE tips now at http://www.leadingvalue.net © Leading Value 2012.