I recently read an article focused on building relationships between business faculty and students. In this article, Dr. Maryellen Weimer discusses research on the value of building rapport that indicates that open communication and a feeling of “alikeness” increases motivation, increases quality of work, establishes greater trust and leads to overall greater student (and faculty) satisfaction.
As I read this I couldn’t help but think that the context is very similar to those of us in management or leadership roles and our relationship with our employees. Like faculty, there is often a distance that is established within the system based on the need for the manager to be objective and, at some degree, evaluate the performance of the employee. We decide on job assignments, roles and responsibilities, and even compensation, so the distance between the leader and the follower can be great. For some, it is even formalized by the belief that, “If I’m the boss, I have to be distant,” which makes establishing rapport nearly impossible.
The researchers cited in this article found that of all the elements of rapport-building that were observed, there were five that were repeated throughout the study. While the research focused only on the educational context of business faculty and student, I believe these five elements can easily be replicated in the work place. (Perhaps I should do a study?). Take a look at the following and see what you think:
1. Respect: Managers and employees who show respect for each other, the work they are doing, and the organization for which they are doing it would be much more likely to establish a mutually beneficial relationship.
2. Approachability: Employees have to feel comfortable coming to you and you have to be willing to speak to them. Your employees need to feel they can approach you. It is impossible to feel comfortable with a boss if he or she has no time for you or your concerns. And by the way, formal and highly structured methods of connecting (“Call my assistant and we’ll work you in next week”) detract from the notion of approachability.
3. Trust and Integrity: Managers must be honest with their employees and have a visible connection between what they say and what they do. One of the easiest ways to undermine true rapport is to create an environment where employees can’t trust their boss. If you promise it, deliver it. If you can’t deliver it, don’t promise it.
4. Caring: Leaders have to care about their followers, and their followers have to know this. This means responding to and working with your employees as individuals. You don’t have to be their mother, but you need to care about their experience while at work. As I’ve said before, there’s no such thing as work/life balance…it’s all life. This means that the time they spend with you needs to be valued.
5. Positive Attitude: Managers need to be optimistic about the possibilities of their employees and their work. They should have a sense of humor. Take what you do very seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Your employees will respect the fact that you have context and will appreciate the approachability that comes with optimism.
Rapport is established by the actions of the leader. You can’t send an email announcing that you will now have rapport. But you can look at these five keys to rapport building and decide what you can do to start establishing better and more productive relationships with your employees. While these actions are not difficult, they require commitment. In the end, building rapport will not only enhance the satisfaction of your employees, but it will make a more satisfying workplace for you as well.