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!

by Phyllis G. Pollack


Phyllis G. Pollack is a full time neutral in Los Angeles where, as President of PGP Mediation, she focuses on business, real estate, contract and “lemon law” disputes. She may be reached at Phone: 213-630-8810 / phyllis@pgpmediation.com / Website: www.pgpmediation.com