Building Rapport in Professional Settings: Powerful Networking Techniques

This video is an excerpt from my upcoming course building rapport: going beyond small talk with advanced communication skills. If you like what you see in this video and you want to see the whole video, or indeed the whole course, check out the link in the description or the comments below.


Check out the full Building Rapport: Communication Skills to Surpass Small Talk course


In this video, we’re going to talk about building rapport in a professional setting – networking and professional relationships.

We’ll start a little story. When I was on the executive team in the Department of Corrections, we had a Christmas lunch probably sometime in November one year. And my little team went and sat together at a table, even though there’s like 100 people there. They’re all sort of clustered together to play it safe. And I thought, No, I’m not going to do that, I’m gonna go sit somewhere randomly and just see what happens. So I went and sat at a table next to this guy who had never met, struck up a conversation, and I just spoke to him as if he was an old friend. I didn’t even ask what his job was. I might have asked his name, but I didn’t try to figure out who he was, where he was in the hierarchy or anything like that. And within a few minutes, we were joking and bantering and telling each other deep personal information about our lives. And we had a great time, connected really well. And it was only later I found out that he was the deputy chief executive. So he was the second highest person in the organization.

Now had I known that or cared about that when I first spoke to him, or during the conversation, it would have really affected how I talked to him, right? I would have become maybe needy, or would have become subservient or tried to impress him. It would have changed who I was. And it’s good that I didn’t know more – and at that point in my life, I didn’t care about that kind of thing anymore – so that status didn’t come into it. And that’s why I was able to connect with him.

See, networking. sometimes called professional networking, connecting with people in a professional space, is counterintuitive. People hear the word professional, and they think “I have to be something other than what I normally am, I have to dress it up, I have to make it fancier and more polite, I have to use big words, I have to keep things limited to a certain range of conversation, I have to be impressive”, so on so forth. But being professional ruins rapport, it doesn’t build it. This is why networking is so ineffective for so many professionals, is they go in there and they pretend to be something they’re not, often with very needy and hidden motives and agendas. And then they wonder why it’s such a difficult event, why it’s so hard to network in any way that’s really effective for their career.

Being real breaks through boundaries. And the fact is, it’s even more powerful in the professional setting. Because everybody else is doing something else. When you’re real in a professional setting, it stands out so much more than in a casual social setting. And that can actually be your strength, you can be the one person there who’s genuine, who isn’t affected by status, who just wants to connect and be of value to people, and isn’t trying to get something, that  isn’t trying to climb their way up the ladder, isn’t trying to use people. If you’re the only one in the room who’s like that, then everyone wants to get to know you.

Now while I say that, there are some specific areas that we want to avoid when it comes to the professional setting. We obviously don’t want to destroy our careers, we need to have some kind of intuition about what difference it makes to be in that situation. But at the same time, we don’t want to lose who we are and become unreal. So in this video, we’re going to talk about some things that you’d focus on specifically when you’re in the professional environment that you might not focus on so heavily in a social environment.

But I really want to emphasize a message that when in doubt, just be real. So the main mistake that people make in professional setting is that they are safely superficial. So they just keep everything at a very superficial level, you don’t get to know them personally at all. And they think that that’s a safe thing to do when actually it’s a mundane, boring thing to do, which is not safe for your career.

Or they’re needy and greedy. Every communication with them, especially when they’re meeting new people at a networking type event, is driven by this desire, like “What can I get for me? How can I make this my benefit?” And that can be felt by the people when you’re talking to them. Somebody starts asking you about who you are, what you do, where you stand in the company. Some people just blatantly start asking you for things and referrals and things like that. And it’s just so obvious. You’re just like a pickpocket, going around stealing things from people, taking value from them.

There is the slight mistake that some people make where they’re too overly familiar in professional settings, like the person who gets drunk at the Christmas party and makes a fool of themselves. But that is actually quite rare. The most likely problem in the professional setting as the other end of the spectrum – you’re too professional, you’re too fake.

To make professional networking work for you, it’s actually counterintuitive. You need to focus on giving and sharing rather than trying to get something for yourself. Think always, “How do I add value to the life of the person that I’m speaking to,” and not just their professional life, though that might be the first thing you consider, but “How do I make it that them meeting me is good for them?”

Rather than trying to sell yourself or get something for yourself, talk about the impact your work has, or what you love about it. And also, don’t forget to talk about the bits that you struggle with and the things that you don’t like. But don’t complain like a victim, just be real about your job. Be shameless about the strengths and the positive side, and equally shameless about the bits you don’t like. Now, if somebody wants to give you value, you’ve made it very easy for them. You’ve told them like, how you can be used if they want to hire you or buy something from you. And also how you can be helped with the things that you don’t like. Rather than you trying to get something for from them, just give them the information as honestly as possible, let them make decisions for themselves.

This will help you self sort the people you talk to into those who want to give and receive equal value with you, and those who just want to take or ignore you, for the people who want to overshare and give you too much and not let it go the other way. And you can find the people who are the right fit for you.

A really powerful way to give in a professional network setting that anyone can do is connections. As soon as you’ve got one connection, one person that you’ve met and connected to, you can connect them with other people. So if you get a good profile in your head, and you may even write it down, on a person’s strengths and weaknesses, of what they want and what they don’t want, and then you meet someone else, and you find out where’s the match here? Where’s this person’s strength meet that person’s weakness? and so forth. How can I connect them in a way where they’ll both be glad that they met each other? And you can become the broker; the spider at the center of the web, who brings everybody together and draws all the strings between them. And that can be the value you bring even if you’ve got nothing else. Even if you don’t have any particular skills or wealth or resources that you can bring, you can bring the ability to just make the introduction that they wouldn’t have thought to make.

And also to understand if you’re doing a course like this and you’re good at building rapport: a lot of people aren’t. You can be the social gel that brings people together, you can make that initiation for them a lot easier. “So Megan, have you met Mark? You were talking about how you’re working on that it problem? Well, he’s an IT genius. And Megan was actually telling me about how she’s really good at PR, and you said you want some PR for your course. Right? So maybe I thought you guys should talk to each other.” It’s so easy to do that. And you made life so much easier for them that you’ll be remembered as the person who hooks people up with other people. And that is a good thing to be remembered for.

Another good thing to be remembered for in the professional setting is the person who takes on the crappy problems that nobody else wants to touch. It’s actually a really easy way to build up your value in a company. Go around trying to find out what’s the thing in this company and this setting that nobody else wants to deal with, because it’s too hard, or too boring, or too scary. Or you have to deal with the customers that yell at people or whatever. And go, “I’ll do it”. You become known as the secret weapon, the person who, when nobody else can handle it, they’ve got to come to you. That is an irreplaceable person.

When you talk about other people, talk them up behind the back. Most people gossip negatively behind people’s back, and most people talk themselves up. Try talking other people up. So when you’re interacting and networking, instead of getting into that needy position where you try to sell yourself all the time, trying to sell other people to them as a “Hey, have you met Mark, that dude is so impressive. If you get a chance today, go and talk to him. You know, his skills are so underrated, if you knew what he did blow your mind.” And you start becoming the person who’s known as building others up without them even being aware, the anonymous giver. Look at this way, try to get other people promoted without them even knowing that you’re talking about them.

When it comes to looking for new people to network with, and wanting to initiate that contact – in case I haven’t emphasized enough – try to make every contact with another person valuable for them. I don’t mean try to impress them or people-please them. But just stop and think before you reach out to someone. What might they need in their life that I can help with? What do they need to hear from me? It might just be compliment or recognition; it could be a resource that you found a thing and thought “They would love this”; it could be a connection with another person like those two would get along really well; it could be a hook up like “Hey, have you seen this job application come out? I thought of you”. Give them something they like every time they hear from you. They’re like, what’s it going to be this time? It’s always valuable. It’s realy helpful to be remembered as that person, and that also keeps you in the giving mindset, the confident mindset, which means you’re not going to repulse people with neediness.

Thank you for watching. If you enjoyed this video and you want to know more about how to build your career through social confidence, get in touch And we can talk about coaching.

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