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Communication and Teamwork

When it comes to building trust and rapport, there are seven basic principles that we have found to be key. The first of those is as follows:

Avoid Criticizing and Complaining

Any behavior that is negative will inherently go against the spirit of building trust and rapport with someone. And so this first principle is simple, yet powerful. Allow me to illustrate through an example.

Jane was preparing for her first big presentation to the Board of Directors. She was very nervous. She spent a lot of time making sure that she had all of her information correct, and included lots and lots of data to back up her points. Her goal was to delivery the information that the Board needed to vote to give her department a larger budget for the coming year.

In preparation, Jane asked her friend and colleague, Paul, to listen to her practice her presentation. Paul agreed, and followed Jane to a conference room to sit and listen as she walked through her planned speech.

As Paul watched, Jane struggled. She was visibly nervous, wringing her hands, laughing nervously, and she gave far too much detail about some of the numbers and sources she was quoting. She got a little lost in her explanations and tended to mumble, then interrupt herself, and chided herself out loud several times during the session.

When she was done, she sat down at the large table, looked at Paul like she expected the worst, and said, “Okay, give it to me straight. How bad was it?”

Paul sat for a moment, unsure of how to give feedback to his friend, who was obviously going to struggle mightily in front of the Board. He wanted to give her constructive advice that was both honest and helpful, without making her feel worse about herself or her presentation.

“Well,” he began cautiously, “I really liked how you moved around a lot in front of the room.” He paused. She looked surprised, like she had expected him to lambaste her with criticism. “Really?” she said. “What else?”

Paul continued on, picking out all of the positive things he could think of for her to build on. She was surprised and felt good about his feedback, but then asked him what she had done wrong. “I really need you to be honest with me,” she said.

Paul paused again, wanting to keep it positive so that she wouldn’t get discouraged and only focus on any “negatives” that he pointed out.

“I think you could get away with fewer examples,” he said finally. “You have a really good handle on your facts, and you are passionate about them, so you don’t need to give more than one or two for each point that you’re covering.” He continued on, framing his advice about what she could improve in the same positive way.

At the end of it, Jane looked relieved and pretty happy. “I was really worried that you were going to tell me I was terrible!” she confessed. “Instead I feel like you gave me some really good pointers and things I can definitely use, and I feel much better about how this will go. Thank you!”

Paul did was this principle is telling us to do. If he had been brutal in his feedback to Jane – criticizing her style and complaining about her rambling – she would not have felt very positive about him or the experience, and it would have eroded their trust and rapport instead of building it.

“People have a way of becoming what you encourage them to be—not what you nag them to be.” –S. N. Parker

We all need feedback from each other. It’s one of the key ways that we grow, learn and improve. But there are ways to do it that will help build the trust and rapport between us, as well as give us a much better chance at actually improving! Next time you find yourself in a position to give such feedback, take a moment to consider how you are going to frame what you have to say.

Will your words sound like criticism? Will it sound like you are just complaining? Or will your words encourage and provide ideas for improvement? It’s worth taking that moment to stop and think before you speak.

Ellen Patnaude

Ellen Patnaude is Vice President of Instruction for the Northeast region. She is based in Detroit, Michigan, but she also teaches in Chicago, Cincinnati, Columbus, Toronto, Baltimore and other Northeast cities.

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