It’s easy to get close to people sitting in the room with you. You can look at their face, hear the sounds they make, shake their hand—do all the normal communication skills you use when you build a relationship with another human being.
Rapport-building skills are a little less obvious when you and your learners are online.
In remote training settings, some of the nuances of in-person communication are hard to see. Virtual communication is can lead to disconnects and miscommunication. Cross-cultural communication can be even tougher.
Which makes it all the more important for program managers or facilitators to home in on their communication skills and build rapport with professional development staff or learners.
Rapport is the strong connection that helps build and strengthen relationships. It helps make remote collaboration smoother and opens a safe space for participants to engage freely.
But it doesn’t always come automatically. Especially for those who’ve never worked in person together, it may be hard to fall into a comfortable rhythm. The good news is that as a manager or instructor, establishing rapport is a skill you can build and use with any team.
Why Rapport Matters for Communication
This communication skill is crucial for the success of any professional online setting. Building rapport requires a minor time investment but pays off majorly with engagement among peers, understanding the challenges learners face, and even long-term course success.
The top three skills to develop for establishing rapport with learners and staff
A large part of successfully supporting learning is giving information and effectively getting your point across. But listening to what they have to say is equally important.
Melissa Daimler of Twitter wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review that explains different levels of listening:
Internal listening – is when you focus on your own thoughts, worries, and priorities, while you look like you’re focusing on the other person.
Focused listening – this next level means you’re focusing on the other person, but you’re not really connecting all the way.
360 listening – here’s the goal. This is when you’re listening to what someone is saying and how, plus interpreting what they’re not saying with words.
Learning to listen effectively is tough. But these are five ways to improve listening and communication skills:
- Make eye contact when possible. This is especially important when participants are using video during calls.
- Give the student enough time to talk—don’t cut them off mid-sentence.
- Show respect by never making learners feel rushed when they are with you.
- Maintain professionalism while being approachable at the same time.
- Ask open-ended questions designed to gather information.
As an instructor or manager, you’re better able to guide learners by understanding their situation or challenges. You may not agree with all of them or even like all of them, but making a genuine effort to understand where they are coming from is a large part of building trust and loyalty.
True understanding is one of the hardest communication skills to master because many times, we merely listen to produce a response — not necessarily to see the other person’s perspective. The goal here is not to turn your students into friends but to know them more than just what is on the case history sheet.
5 ways to improve understanding skills:
- Repeat what your interlocutor says back to them. And ask them to repeat back any instructions you give to them.
- Practice empathy by putting yourself in the shoes of your learners. And cultivate a shame-free environment for sharing.
- Know your group through a needs assessment. This will help you know what kinds of challenges they face before even talking with an individual. Here’s how to plan one.
- Do what you can to boost your team’s virtual training skills. This will help them feel more at ease and focus on the learning process.
- Encourage learners to share their views with you and ask them what they think to gauge at what level of understanding they have.
One of the common mistakes that instructors and managers make is assuming the learners know more than they do. Avoid this by using your listening and understanding skills to tailor the information being shared. It is important that the learner and instructor be on the same plane of communication so they can work towards the same goals.
- Use the right language. This includes avoiding technical jargon or adapting the available resources.
- Include visual aids. They will help bring your words to life and encourage the team to participate more.
- Say the same thing in different ways. Repeating yourself is OK, especially in slightly different ways that make it easier for someone to get what they might have missed the first time.
- Slow down. It might take longer, but good communication means you have to speak slowly. Plus, it will save on clarifying phone calls later.
- Explain why. Difficult concepts can be easier to grasp if there’s a broader context of how they affect a situation. To achieve this, explain the reason for doing something to really drive the point home.
Gaining the trust of your learners and staff is as important as any training plan or KPIs you set. Every learner starts a program with similar expectations of wanting to improve a skill, acquiring new knowledge, and completing the requirements successfully. Purposefully improving your communication skills can greatly benefit the learning objectives and foster a nurturing environment regardless of physical distance.