Meeting and building a connection with people for the first time can be tough – not everyone is super confident and extroverted.
And while they make it look easy in the films, in real life, it can get awkward real quick if you don’t know how to keep the conversation flowing.
Whether you’re meeting the in-laws, a potential employer, or new co-workers for the first time, this article will give you some basic tools to help make the process a lot easier.
Here are 10 simple ways to build rapport with people you’ve just met:
1) Use positive body language
Whoever you’re meeting for the first time, one thing is for sure – they’re picking up on your body language.
If you’re standing hunched over, with your arms crossed and a serious expression on your face, you’re probably not giving off friendly vibes.
On the other hand, a genuine smile, a confident stance, and direct eye contact show other people that you’re up for socializing.
Essentially, your body language tells them it’s safe to approach you.
2) Introduce yourself confidently
After adopting positive body language, the next simple way to build rapport with people you’ve just met is to introduce yourself clearly and confidently.
I’m a pretty confident person now, but in the past, introducing myself would induce a slight quiver in my voice and I’d speak super fast.
One thing that helped me calm down and at least appear confident was taking a few deep breaths before speaking.
This actually soothes your nervous system, helping you come out of that “fight or flight” response.
So, once you feel ready, make your move.
Be the first to extend your hand, say your name, and let them know it’s a pleasure to meet them.
Oh, and on that note, make sure you’ve got a good handshake. Practice with your friends or family if you’re unsure. A good handshake says a lot about a person.
3) Actively listen to them
Now, this is a really important step in making a good impression and building that essential connection when you first meet someone – listening to them.
I know how hard that can be, especially if you’re feeling flustered in the moment.
It gets even harder if you’re meeting multiple new people at the same time.
Just take it slow. There’s no rush, and if you don’t quite catch what someone says, ask them politely to repeat.
So, why is this all so important?
It’s simple – people love to feel heard. People also really like speaking about themselves. If you can show genuine interest, you’ll make them feel great about themselves, and as a result, great about you, too.
A few other things to note with active listening are:
- Not interrupting them. No matter how excited you are, wait your turn to speak.
- Maintaining eye contact with whoever is speaking.
- Nodding or using facial expressions to show you’re following the conversation.
You can also ask follow-up questions which will really leave a good impression on them, but we’ll cover that a bit further on in the article.
As a result of actively listening, the next step should be easier:
4) Use their name
Okay, I’ll admit, I’m TERRIBLE at remembering names. Goldfish memory kind of terrible.
So when someone introduces themselves, I tend to repeat their name a few times under my breath until it sticks.
But more often than not, I’ll still end up forgetting. In this case, I always ask them again (usually followed by a nervous chuckle and a joke about how bad my memory is).
It is important to use people’s names though.
It shows you’re valuing them as an individual, and this is incredibly powerful. It builds trust and takes you from being perfect strangers to acquaintances.
5) Find common ground
Once you’ve introduced yourself and got their name recorded down in memory, it’s time to find something in common.
This might seem daunting, but usually, people give off a lot of clues right from the get-go…
“You know what the traffic is like, especially during the school run in the morning.” (Now you know they’ve got kids, you can ask them questions about it).
“The weather is crap, I could do with a holiday somewhere sunny!” (If you share a love for traveling or sunshine, here’s your cue).
The above is useful if you’re meeting an absolute stranger.
If it’s someone like a potential employer, you can talk about the company and take things from there.
If it’s your in-laws, your spouse will be the ideal topic of conversation.
Ultimately, finding common ground helps the conversation flow, and builds the positive rapport that will hopefully, flourish into a healthy friendship/working relationship later.
6) Offer genuine compliments
I’ve always found that a genuine compliment, well-timed, can go a long way in building a good rapport with someone. It makes people feel good about themselves.
But a word of caution:
Don’t make it superficial. Don’t lie.
If you can compliment something other than their sense of clothing or great hairstyle, even better.
But I get that it’s not always easy to do that when you’ve just met someone for the first time. All you have to go off is the superficial stuff.
In that case, just keep it genuine and make it specific.
Rather than randomly throwing out something like, “You look so cool!” It’s better to opt for, “I like the style of your outfit. It suits you a lot.”
Alternatively, you can wait until something comes up in conversation that gives you more to work with.
7) Be empathetic
Empathy doesn’t just apply when someone is going through something tough.
It’s also about how you connect with others. Are you nodding your head, smiling, and expressing your emotions with your facial expressions?
Or are you deadpan and serious?
If someone mentions that traffic is terrible, do you give them a sympathetic smile and agree, the traffic is truly rubbish and it’s about time the council does something about it?
Little things like this can make a big difference in building rapport.
And if someone does express something sad, don’t be afraid to show support.
You might not know them very well, but a touch on the arm, or an “Are you alright? That must be tough” will make them feel like you genuinely care.
8) Ask engaging questions
I mentioned earlier that when actively listening, it’s a good idea to ask follow-up questions.
But the truth is, any question that’s well thought out and appropriate will do the trick.
For one, it shows that you’re interested. And this is the most powerful way to build a good rapport with people you’ve just met.
Secondly, it helps keep the conversation flowing nicely.
People are more likely to like you if they deem you “easy to talk to”.
As a journalist, I naturally love asking questions. So this never came hard to me. But I do notice that others struggle in this department.
Perhaps they don’t want to sound nosey or they simply aren’t sure what to ask.
Keep it on neutral topics (unless you sense that the other person is willing to go a bit deeper). Ask questions from a polite, inquisitive stance, rather than a judgy/attacking manner.
And always ask open-ended questions.
For example, it’s far better to say, “What makes you enjoy living here?” Rather than, “Do you like living here?”
The first encourages the other person to open up and expand on their answer, the second limits them to a “yes” or “no” response.
9) Be genuine
By genuine, I mean, just be yourself.
Don’t put on an act, as hard as it may be. You want to build a good rapport, but this should carry over into a friendship or working relationship in the future.
So there’s no point being someone who you aren’t.
And 9 times out of 10, the other person can tell when someone is faking it. It won’t look good for you.
So, if you’re a bit shy, own it. Try your best and let them know that you’re shy, they’ll probably find it endearing.
I’ve found that being true to yourself is the best approach because it allows others to do the same.
It’s also much easier to keep up with since you’re not lying or embellishing stories that you’ll later potentially slip up on.
10) Keep things light and positive
And finally, when building a rapport with people you’ve just met, keep it light.
Don’t assume that everyone wants to go deep into subject matters straight away.
If you’ve got a lot of personal stuff going on, avoid bringing it into the mix. Especially while you’re still getting to know each other.
A lot of people find it overwhelming if someone opens up too much too quickly.
So the best thing is to judge your audience.
I’ve been on a first friendship date where we got into family trauma by the second coffee, but since we were both on the same page, it worked out and I’m still friends with that person.
I’ve met other people who took months to warm up.
So it really just depends. But when in doubt, stay positive, polite, and keep things simple.
With the tips above, you can’t go too wrong!