Six components that build a foundation to help improve your approach toward building trust and rapport, even if you're working virtually.

It is essential for professionals to develop strong relationships with staff, colleagues, teammates, and clients. We can start by implementing practices for building trust and rapport, even when working virtually! But what exactly contributes to trust? 

  • People trust others who seem similar and familiar.
  • People trust others with who they feel a stronger connection.
  • People trust others who express vulnerabilities.
  • People trust others who make them feel safe. 

While our bullets on trust may seem pretty straightforward, we've identified six components and guidelines that will help you improve trust and rapport with employees, teammates, colleagues, clients, and just about anyone!

  1. Identify and establish similarities with others. 

Overall, there are many ways to create a bridge and bond, but not without being intentional about establishing similarities and connections. Think about what happens as you discover similarities with people. How do you each react as you learn about shared interests and experiences? It can be an instant game-changer for your relationships because similarity is an essential contributor to building trust. 

  1. Use your screen backgrounds and surrounding.

Have you ever gone to a football game or sporting event where fans wear team attire? While some fans may be supporting the opposing team, it still represents a shared connection to that sport. Has anyone ever commented on your screen background or environment during a video call? Interesting how one's background can initiate comments leading to discussions. "I love your background; I have two of the same inspirational quotes hanging in my office." Our surroundings and environment influence behavior, what we think, how we feel, and how others perceive us. 

Your surroundings and backgrounds are new conversation starters and first impressions for many people. Hence, we can influence mindsets by matching our surroundings, environment, or background to an intention or goal.

  • Use Zoom and Teams backgrounds to initiate comments and questions, leading to conversations.
  • Try different and interesting background images, relatable pictures, awards, art, quotes, or holiday decorations.
  • Give a professional appearance or show talents and competencies using your office setting or décor. 
  • Attending a sporting event may not be conducive to everyone's work role or environment, but we can still use a similar theme for team video meetings. 
    • Try it and watch the magic unfold with conversations and connections as attendees join the call wearing their favorite team attire or displaying it on their screen background. 
  • Find ways your similar using the following:  Personality Science, 3-Part Series.

So, if you are not making a conscious effort to identify a similarity to help connect with your staff, teammates, colleagues, etc., make it a goal, especially for your important relationships, starting with the use of your surroundings or screen backgrounds.

  1. Use mirroring to build on similarity.

To build on similarity, you can use a technique called mirroring. Mirroring can help you feel similar to the other person and be on the same page. Below are a few mirroring techniques you can try; mirror using:

  • Non-verbal, neutral, or positive body language so that it feels familiar
  • Head movements and body language with another person's expressions
  • Verbal content, such as speech and the pace of the conversation, types of words, and phrases that people use

In addition, teams and organizations have their own culture and vocabulary. Mirroring in this context will help you fit in with team-established similarities.

  1. Use the Friendship Formula to build familiarity and stronger connections.

What is the friendship formula, and how does it help people see you as a friend (similar and familiar)? The formula to building familiarity (friendship, trust, and rapport) includes four components, and it naturally occurs in our friendships via proximity, frequency, duration, and vulnerability/intensity. The more frequently and the longer we can be around someone, the more we build trust. If you can get people to like you, you will have more influence, and things will open up for you. As you increase the factors of the friendship formula, it helps build familiarity, friendship, and then trust. 

Now, consider the formula from a virtual or remote work environment. Understandably, it doesn't sound easy, given we're busy with a never-ending schedule of tasks with no end in sight. Our days are rushed, bouncing from meeting to meeting and project to project. However, spending a little time, even a few minutes at the beginning of your meetings or video calls, is going to help establish trust. 

So, how can you increase proximity, frequency, duration, and vulnerability in your virtual world? Here are items and strategies to consider: 

  • Enhance the virtual proximity and frequency we need by having online groups as virtual interactions to build familiarity, name recognition, and trust.
  • Consider starting with team members that are extra silent during calls.
  • Make it a priority to reach out to them in the first few minutes of team meetings, share the love, and ask them how they are doing.

It's a small start to engaging and acknowledging folks, but this makes an impactful and positive gesture for many. 

Additionally, if you're not having individual checkpoints with your team, make this a priority. During these meetings, you can focus on the team-member and identify how they're doing, any work struggles, and even challenges outside work that may impact projects. Aside from being engaging, you can open up and allow for some vulnerability about yourself. Doing video calls is suitable for visual perceptions, which helps gauge how someone may be feeling. The following are additional items and ideas to consider:

  • Teams active on MS Teams, Slack for chit-chatting, not just business talk
  • Team building games like Family Feud
  • Virtual Escape Rooms outside of work parameters to start building some relationships 
  • Be proactive when creating virtual proximity frequently. Keep it going to help build trust, but be wary of the bystander (wallflower) and encourage participation by finding creative ways to engage your team in meetings and during video calls.
  • A disengaged wallflower may not be building trust until they show some vulnerability, i.e., speaking up and participating in discussions. 
  • Reduce the bystander effect with group chats, jokes, and games to interact and stay connected.

Again, it's understandable that work keeps us busy. However, be sure to take a deliberate approach, so you don't lose that interaction with each other while having a reasonable amount of duration and interaction with others.

  1. Use vulnerability to build trust.

It's easy to be kind to friends or people that are kind to us. However, it's not easy to be kind to others where there's conflict. Nevertheless, finding a small effort or gesture from the other person helps erode the distrust. You can reconcile a broken relationship with a small gesture, asking for their advice. People want to feel they matter. The following includes vulnerability strategies and items to consider.

  • It's okay to show vulnerability, but be aware of professional settings and aspects, as it can be delicate. 
  • Consider a deeper concentration of vulnerability to help build friendship and trust, like owning up to mistakes or discussing weaknesses.
    • Follow up with improvements or lessons learned to help boost trust, connect with others, and show that you are authentic and genuine. 
  • Many of us are in a remote work environment; take that similarity to help you with speaking up more, sharing, and engaging.
  • Respecting others' feelings will build trusting relationships, making you more approachable and trusted. 
    • As a manager, mentor, or teammate, make sure you are a safe place for others to express their feelings.
    • Respect what others have to talk about, even if you disagree.
  • Make sure others feel their opinion matters by being an active listener.
    • Simply restating indicates that you're listening.
  • Look for opportunities to say yes to them without the but.
    • Don't case-doubt on what they have to say.
    • Giving them a yes without the but helps empower them to engage more.
  • Use Filler sounds or phrases.
    • I see, hear, feel what you're saying.
    • I know from where you're coming.

Visit "Vulnerability is what creates trust" for more insights. 

  1. Help others feel safe and like you more.

In a world filled with so much disagreement, it's refreshing when someone makes the directed effort to build trust and rapport. So how can you help people like you more? Consider that people like people that:

  • Like them – so you'll likely reciprocate and like them 
  • Empathize – put on their shoes, try to feel what they are feeling 
  • Listen – we mean genuinely listen to hear, not reciprocate your take
  • Are kind – try to be kind

Now consider this brilliant story about Disraeli vs Gladstone, two politicians running for office. The setting is a person having lunch with each candidate individually. After each lunch, the person is approached to provide their thoughts about the candidate. After lunch with the first, the response is, "They are extremely smart." Then their answer for the second candidate is, "They made me feel like the smartest person in the world." Do you know who won the election? Yes, it was the second politician. It sounds like the first candidate had much to say about themselves. And the second, well, he must have genuinely considered the four criteria for what people like. People like people that like them, empathize, listen, and are kind). And as Tony Hsieh quotes, "Open, honest communication is the best foundation for any relationship, but remember that at the end of the day, it's not what you say or what you do, but how you make people feel that matters the most." 

Now let’s view this approach with figures from a study of Fortune 100 companies (companies) and client negotiation, particularly in adversarial relationships between some of these companies. The companies and individuals who took the time to REALLY get to know the other ended up negotiating a deal 30% faster. On average, the negotiation time went from nine months to six months. Simply shaving that 30% off negotiation time resulted in the companies saving an estimated $10 to $30 million!

In summary, if all it takes is getting to know someone to build trust and team rapport (and even win an election), imagine its positive impact on our personal lives, professional working relationships, employee retention, productivity, etc. We like to know that others care, and we all want to feel significant and have meaning. Now, it's up to us to take the time and make a deliberate approach to really getting to know someone.


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