Building Rapport

Building Rapport

Everybody has their own style to get that first important yes, the first “right” yes. I’m not going to tell you what to say; if a real estate agent is negotiating with a potential client over the price of a house, it doesn’t make sense to say, “Do you want me to be honest with you or lie to you?” What might work for her is something along the lines of: “Are you ready to buy, or do you need more information?”

“I need more information,” says the potential buyer.

The real estate agent gives it. Now the key there is not—as real estate agents and buyers sometimes think—that the additional information represents an obligation to buy that house. That’s misreading what’s going on, even though quite a number of sales trainers will urge the salesman to phrase the question exactly that way because they think it makes it harder for the person to walk away. In their minds, the goal of getting that first yes and then giving the information is to sell that house.

It’s not.

The goal of the first yes is to establish a rapport, a basis for negotiating. And negotiating is not closing. You negotiate all the points, then you close the deal.

The real estate agent provides information until the client is ready to start negotiations on that specific house. If the client is not interested in the house after the agent has done something for him or her, it isn’t a lost sale, it’s a postponed one—on a different house.

Taking The Time To Sell

When I was a kid, I noticed that some salespeople would let their customers talk their ears off. And I mean talk their ears off. Grandma So-and-so goes into the fabric store and spends a half hour talking with the owner about her grandkids: what they eat, what they read, what they burp . . . way too much information, if you get where I’m coming from.

Why was this woman wasting her time? Didn’t she have anything better to do?

Maybe she did have other things to do, but she wasn’t actually wasting her time. She was merely investing it in sales that day and in the future. There were, at the time, a half-dozen similar stores in the neighborhood. Grandma So-and-so came to that one because the owner cared about her. Listening meant that the person cared.

In hostage negotiations, the negotiator shows the other person that he cares all the time. It’s part of building rapport. No words are wasted words; even the most innocuous comment can help you reach your goal. And a lot of this happens without a script.

Yankee Fans

One of the funniest, maybe even most bizarre, examples I’ve ever seen of this happened during a New York hostage situation quite a number of years back. It was during the summer in an apartment house in New York, no AC out in the hallway, and if it was less than one hundred degrees in the stairwell where we all camped out, then I’m six-eight.

We have this situation with a subject locked inside an apartment with a weapon, and there’s no phone, no way to communicate except shouting through the door. Literally.

And the subject is not exactly Mr. Sunshine.

So we go around and around for a while, everybody in full protective gear and behind ballistic shields, the whole shebang, sweat rolling down our backsides. Different members of the team take on the role of lead negotiator, only to meet with what is called “invective” in polite company. I think we all had a turn at trying to get this guy to talk, and did about as well as a single A minor league baseball player would do trying to get a hit against Pedro Martinez in his heyday. No rapport, no nothing except a hall full of sweat and four-letter words.

So into the middle of this steaming situation comes a new negotiator. It happens that it was his day off but he was in the neighborhood, and so he stopped by to see if he could help out. Even veterans do that, by the way; it wasn’t like he was shining up to the commander or anything.

So he goes to the boss and says, “Mind if I give it a try?”

The commander figures, why not, it will give the other guys a break at least.

So the new negotiator puts on the vest, gets behind the ballistic shield, and waddles out there, trailing sweat along the floor.

“Hello inside, just wanted to say I’m out here blah-blah-blah.”

The response began: “X#@#$#% you!” I’ll leave the rest of that sentence to your imagination.

“Hey, not a problem,” said the newbie. “I can’t really hang around anyway. I got tickets to the game tonight, and I got to get going soon.”

“Game? What game?”

“Yankee game.”

“How’d you get tickets to that? It’s been sold out for weeks.”

“Oh, I got this buddy who knows somebody.”

“You’re really going to the Yankee game?”


“They’re going to win.”

“I hope so. But the way Rivers is playing . . .”

“Ah, Rivers . . .”

Yeah, you guessed it. We’re sweating our uniforms off, and these guys start talking about baseball. I guess the real highlight came when they started talking about baseball cards. Sheez.

“So listen, one Yankee fan to another, you want to come out of there?” said the negotiator finally.

“One fan to another, I’m coming out.”


But it happened. They established a basis to negotiate via baseball, and then just about skipped over the negotiating part. Life should always be like that, right?

So here this guy is, on the floor, being cuffed, and the negotiator says, “Well listen, like I said, I’m going to come down with you to the station and go through the booking process with you, so no sweat.”

Guy looks up and says, “Listen, man, don’t miss that baseball game on account of me, okay? That’s more important.”

Only in New York.