As an extraverted ‘people person’, I like to think that one of my greatest strengths is building rapport. It’s an important part of the wooing process that occurs when presenting your agency credentials and establishing a new business relationship.
It’s not for everyone, but to some degree, successful business partnerships hinge on simply liking each other, and rapport-building is a key part of that. I consider most of my long-term clients to be friends and enjoy having lunch or a drink with them as much as I enjoy helping to solve their marketing communications challenges.
But in the era of COVID, when so many interactions take place through a screen, how do you build rapport?
Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Rule of Personal Communication suggests that, when we convey attitudes and emotions, only 7% of communication comes from the words we speak, while we get 38% of communication from vocal signals and a whopping 55% from body language.1
Mehrabian’s research indicates that we tend to like and trust a person more (key factors in building rapport!) when their vocal tone and body language match their words.1 For example, if someone says, ‘I like that idea’ in a flat tone with their arms crossed over their chest, we’re probably not going to believe them.
The pandemic has forced us to interact with new or prospective clients via email or phone, where a large percentage of communication is lost, making it difficult to build rapport.
Zoom is a better option, but it’s still hard to observe someone’s body language when they’re just a head on your screen – gestures, direct eye contact and postural cues are missing. In addition, lag, accidentally talking over each other and having to play Whack-A-Mole with the mute button before you speak limits free-flowing conversation and may cause key strategic insights to be wasted.
As an agency, one of the challenges we’ve faced during the pandemic has been pitching to clients on Zoom. It’s especially difficult to communicate with black screens and muted audio when a prospect doesn’t want to switch their camera or mic on (the virtual equivalent of talking to someone with their back turned).
Just like in any conversation, when we’re pitching, we respond dynamically to the client’s words, vocal quality and body language by adjusting how we communicate. Very challenging when we can’t see or hear them!
On the flipside, I love being able to involve more members of the team in client meetings without having to waste a couple of hours of their time on travel. It’s allowed much greater sharing of insights and questions from different perspectives, and I think it makes for a healthier, more democratised creative process.
That’s one thing that I hope we can hang onto when the pandemic is over – the ability to get more people into meetings without it impacting significantly on their day (or the client’s retainer).
But I know from experience that some of the best conversations take place while you’re walking someone to the office door, or over a pub lunch. A little gem of insight, a spark of an idea, an invitation to try something new – as restrictions ease, I look forward to more of these moments in 2022.