If you are like most busy professionals, you are typically pressed for time and would prefer to not waste time on small talk and just get to the issues at hand. This “small talk,” however, if used correctly, has value and should not just be dismissed or glossed over. When bargaining parties take the timeto establish some rapport and develop personal relationships, they tend to behave more cooperatively and enhance the likelihood they will achieve mutual agreements. It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t build rapport simply to win the upper hand in negotiations. Only building a sincere and genuine rapport can promote trust and credibility.

Many believe that the ability to connect with people is a natural gift — either you can build rapport or you can’t. However, developing rapport, like all negotiation skills, is something that anyone can learn, and then use. Here are some tips.


Unconsciously mimicking each other’s gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice. Keeping your arms uncrossed, the occasional head nod to assure your attention. Maintaining eye contact, leaning toward the other person, and smiling are indications of openness and interest in each other.

Meet in Person
Easier to build rapport face-to-face rather than via email or over the phone, many of the above mentioned non-verbal communication cues are lost via email.

Common Interests
These can be found via casual conversation and “small talk” or actively researching the other person’s bio or background. The more you know about your counterpart before you meet them, the more likely you are to find a common bridge that builds trust.

Thoughtful Gestures
Remembering birthdays, alma maters, favorite sports teams, details of family life & children all show genuine interest. Compliment your counterpart.

Share information about yourself, your background and interests. This may uncover common interests and experiences, and sets the stage for open communication.

Beware of Ethical Pitfalls
Once a friendly, positive rapport has been established, negotiators may be more reluctant to share bad news and be tempted to sacrifice ethical values in the interest of maintaining rapport and reaching an agreement. Always keep in mind the potential long-term consequences of your decisions during important negotiations.