You spend a lot of time interacting with your coworkers, but that doesn’t mean you inherently share a tight-knit relationship. In fact, 41% of Americans say their coworkers are just that: coworkers.
That’s understandable when the bulk of your conversations center on work. You talk about projects. And timelines. And status updates. And meeting agendas. You’re on a team together to get a job done, after all.
But here’s the truth: All of that collaboration becomes a whole lot easier (not to mention enjoyable) if you share some rapport with the people you work with.
What Exactly Is Rapport?
When people talk about having “rapport” with someone, it’s often viewed as having a friendly, albeit surface-level, connection with another person. You might chat about the weather or the weekend—something non--work-related, but not necessarily deep either.
As it turns out, the true definition of rapport goes a little bit further than the inconsequential chatter we all immediately think of. Here’s what Merriam-Webster has to say:
“A friendly, harmonious relationship. Especially: a relationship characterized by agreement, mutual understanding, or empathy that makes communication possible or easy.”
That’s a little more involved than the, “Hey, it’s pretty chilly out there today, huh?” pleasantries we frequently exchange.
What rapport looks like at work can be as unique as your relationships themselves, but a few telltale signs that you share good rapport with a colleague might include:
- You don’t always need to provide a ton of context and background information because you’re confident you’re both on the same page.
- You own your mistakes in front of them because they give you the benefit of the doubt and treat you with sympathy.
- You don’t get nervous to ask them a question, for further instructions, or for other support.
- You’re comfortable approaching them about a variety of topics, whether personal or work-related.
To put it simply, having rapport doesn’t necessarily have to equate to a close friendship, but it does mean that there’s a certain level of familiarity, common ground, and respect between you and another person you work with.
Does Rapport Even Matter? (Spoiler: Yes)
Building rapport doesn’t just happen—it’s something you need to actively work toward. But, when your to-do list is already long and overwhelming, this question might be looming in your brain: Is it even worth it?
The short answer is a resounding, “yes.” It’s no secret that relationships carry a lot of weight at work (we’ll spare you the “it’s not always what you know, but who you know” cliché) and focusing on building rapport with your colleagues leads to a number of benefits, including:
- Tighter bonds and relationships: Science says that we all share a basic human motivation to affiliate with other people, and rapport helps us feel closer to the people we work with. Even better? Those bonds can hold strong even if you no longer work together (which means you’re building a solid network)!
- Increased happiness and job satisfaction: Those more tight-knit and comfortable relationships at work do more than combat loneliness and isolation—they actually boost our happiness and our overall engagement levels.
- Improved collaboration: Rapport isn’t just about happy hours, friendly lunches, and feel-good moments. When you build that solid foundation and mutual understanding with the people you work with, you’re able to work together more effectively.
So yes, building rapport is going to require that you go out of your way to form these links and bonds with your team members—but it’s more than worth the effort.
Building Rapport With Your Team Members: 4 Strategies To Forge Strong Bonds
With that in mind, the question isn’t about whether or not you should build rapport—it’s about how you do it. Don’t start sweating quite yet. Chances are, it’s way more straightforward than you might think.
Here are four different strategies you can try, whether you and your team members are distributed or working side-by-side in the same office.
1. Be A Decent Human Being
In all honesty, almost everything you need to know about building rapport and being a good colleague you likely learned in kindergarten with this golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated.
It sounds basic, but it’s important. You can bring in donuts or make an effort to ask someone about their kids—but that can only do so much. It won’t make up for the fact that you continuously shirk responsibilities or miss deadlines, for example.
In order to build rapport, you need to have trust—and that all starts with the basics of treating people with respect, producing high-quality work, and delivering on your promises.
Do It In-Person:
- Practice active listening to ensure you actually understand what’s being communicated before taking action.
- Own your responsibilities, meet your deadlines, and follow through on promises you make to your colleagues.
- Offer to step in and help someone when they’re overwhelmed or struggling with a project or task.
Do It Remotely:
- Put all of the above tips into play—they apply in both remote and in-person environments.
- Keep your microphone on mute when you’re not speaking in meetings so you avoid interrupting or distracting your fellow attendees.
2. Genuinely Check In
“But I already frequently check in with my colleagues,” you might be thinking now. “I’m always asking them how they’re doing!”
Ask yourself this: Are you asking them out of a sense of obligation and politeness? Or are you asking because you’re genuinely curious about how they’re doing? There’s a big difference—and most of us can usually sense which category someone falls into.
This tactic for building rapport is about going beyond the general niceties (you know, the ones you hope to get through as fast as possible before moving into what you really want to talk about) to authentically touch base about how someone is feeling. For example:
Instead of: “How are you?”
Try: “I know you’re in the thick of pulling together that big end-of-year presentation. How are you feeling about it?”
Instead of: “How was your weekend?”
Try: “I know you mentioned in last week’s team meeting that your daughter had a soccer tournament this weekend. How’d that go?”
These types of questions not only feel more sincere, but they also give you an opportunity to connect far more personally than a typical, empty small talk prompt.
Do It In-Person:
- Invite a colleague (especially one you aren’t already closely connected with) to grab a quick lunch or coffee so you have some dedicated time to connect.
- When you know somebody has a stressful day or week, stop by their desk with a treat or even a few encouraging words to let them know you’re rooting for them.
Do It Remotely:
- Reserve some time (even five minutes will suffice) at the start of video chats or meetings to connect on a more personal level.
- Send a quick email or instant message to check in about a specific topic and let someone know you’re thinking of them.
- Share a resource that you think could help someone on your team. It could be as simple as sending a couple of your favorite crockpot recipes to the coworker who mentioned that dinner preparations always stress them out.
3. Prioritize Praise And Recognition
Recognition at work is so often talked about from the top-down—as if it always has to come from senior leadership or a manager.
In reality, peer recognition can be equally as powerful. As a piece for Harvard Business Review explains, “It feels less like a performance review and more like an organic expression of gratitude.”
People want to know when they’re doing well, and hearing that (especially unprompted) from their own team members can carry a lot of meaning.
There’s one caveat, though: Try to gain an understanding of how someone prefers to receive feedback and recognition before dishing it out. Do they like public shoutouts or are one-on-one compliments more their speed? Knowing that will help you adequately applaud them—rather than embarrass them.
Do It In-Person:
- Stop by their desk with a small treat to celebrate a recent win or accomplishment.
- Offer a genuine compliment about a job well done, whether that’s one-on-one or in a team meeting.
- Write a quick “thank you” note or email to express your gratitude for their stepping in to help you on a recent task or project.
Do It Remotely:
- Send a personalized email or message to offer a compliment or a token of appreciation. You could even include a small digital gift card, if you feel like it.
- Talk to your manager about starting a Slack channel specifically designated for peer-to-peer praise and celebrating big and small wins.
- Come up with a fun virtual tradition to recognize achievements and moments (from promotions to birthdays). For example, maybe everybody will share a funny GIF that captures how they feel about that occasion.
4. Go Beyond “Work Mode”
How much do you really know about your coworkers? You might know little quirks like that Arial is their preferred font or that they can’t stand when someone doesn’t clear the cook time from the break room microwave.
But, much like you, they have entire lives—families, hobbies, experiences, goals, and other priorities—outside of working hours.
Not everybody will be comfortable opening up and sharing details of their personal lives with the people they work with (and that’s fine too!). But, for those who are, expressing an active interest in those topics can help you establish and maintain even deeper rapport.
Do It In-Person:
- Begin meetings with a funny or lighthearted icebreaker to get everybody comfortable and learn more about each other in the process.
- Make an effort to actually follow up on the personal information that people openly share, whether they shared it with the whole team or you directly (e.g. “How’s your triathlon training going?”).
Do It Remotely:
- Start designated Slack channels for specific interest groups, such as working parents who want to share tips (and then actively participate in those conversations).
- Create a collaborative playlist that you and your colleagues can all contribute to.
- Find virtual-friendly opportunities to connect, such as inviting a coworker to have lunch together over video chat or starting a book club.
Real Rapport Goes Beyond The Surface
Rapport isn’t about engaging in trivial small talk with someone once or twice—that might make for an acquaintance, but not necessarily a colleague with whom you share mutual trust and understanding.
Real rapport is about putting in the elbow grease to genuinely connect with the people you work with. Do that and you’ll have a tighter bond, a comfortable dynamic, and a way easier time getting great work done together.
See? We told you it was well worth the effort.
Good or bad, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Find us on Twitter (@trello)!