Pros use language to manage rapport

My students have demonstrated they understand how to identify the rhetorical context of management messages at this point. (I hope to have a couple of guest posts based on their first exam in a few days.) Now we start analyzing the linguistic details of communication behavior. Last week, I introduced them to some concepts from linguistic pragmatics and conversation analysis. Ultimately, students will use their analytical insights to explain a manager’s level of success in developing and maintaining relationships with those they hope to lead. That means we are studying rapport.

Rapport occurs in interactions which participants enjoy and in which they establish a personal connection. We are specifically interested in the strategic communication behaviors that a manager can use to positively influence rapport in interactions. That’s called rapport management. (Spencer-Oatey coined the term.) Why should we care about it? I used this quote from psychologist Robert Hogan a while back:

Seventy-five percent of working adults say the worst aspect of their job — the most stressful aspect of their job — is their immediate boss. . . Bad managers create enormous health costs and are a major source of misery for many people.

Lousy communication between managers and employees has also been linked to financial performance.

Effective employee communication is a leading indicator of financial performance and a driver of employee engagement. Companies that are highly effective communicators had 47% higher total returns to shareholders over the last five years compared with firms that are the least effective communicators. [2009 Towers Watson report]

So organizations ignore a manager’s ability to manage rapport at their own peril.

Traditionally, nonverbal mimicry has been touted as the key to establishing rapport. But more recent research suggests it sometimes has the opposite effect. While I never doubted the importance of nonverbal behavior in managing rapport, I hypothesized that our words matter, too. That’s why I started doing research in this area. (See the related articles below.) And then translated that research into Thinking and Interacting Like a Leader for managers (and other professionals).

More specifics about linguistic tactics for rapport management from me and my students are coming soon.

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