two business men shaking hands

Take a Swing at Developing Rapport in Interviews

My husband Wayne and I have been sharing a lot of sad, knowing looks lately. You see, our son Greg, just graduated from high school and is off to college in just under two months. What a tired cliché to say that these years pass by quickly, and yet what an accurate one.

We were driving to Greg’s baseball game the other night sharing some quiet moments on the drive. Wayne and I were both at the NRF conference in Anaheim, so we had missed his first few games. I could see that Wayne was filled with excitement and anticipation to get back to what he loves—coaching baseball and, more specifically, coaching his son. We’ve been lucky to have had Wayne coach all four of our kids, the boys a little bit longer. With Greg wrapping up his baseball career, this season is bittersweet.

We pulled up to the game and I looked over at Wayne, it was like looking at the face of pure joy. He literally bounded out of the truck. He greeted all the players and coaches then started batting practice. Here’s where I link this to interviewing. Wayne developed rapport with every single player who came up to take batting practice. If you want good results in any undertaking, whether it’s baseball or interviewing, you must prep the players first—grease the skids, so to speak.

While I sat in my lawn chair, basking in the sun that’s been so rare in Chicago lately, I watched in admiration as Wayne took the time to make every kid feel comfortable. If he didn’t know them, he walked to the batter’s box and shook their hand, then he asked them a few questions about where they went to school or played on other teams. If he did know them (he’s been coaching some of them for years), he’d share a story from a previous season or ask them how things were going in their life. Then he made a little self-deprecating joke or two.

After all this, the magic happened—these kids were at ease. They weren’t worried about anything except hitting. Sorry, they didn’t all become instant division 1 prospects, but I could see in that moment that they felt comfortable and were having fun.

Take a few minutes to develop rapport with your interview subjects. Make it genuine. It doesn’t have to take hours or even more than a couple minutes to make the subject feel comfortable as long as your words, body language, and facial expression show true interest. This may be the hardest part of the interview if you’re an introvert like me, or if you have become emotionally invested in the investigation. Sometimes it may feel difficult to make small talk with someone who’s been stealing. Push through that, set it aside for a few minutes, and develop rapport. It will make your job easier in the long run. Another bonus from developing rapport is that it helps the interviewer settle down and calm nerves.

I’m getting a little lump in my throat as I picture Wayne pitching batting practice to Greg. His son now towers over him and has about 30 pounds on him, but I could tell Greg still has respect and pride for his dad. Joking around with his son was doing something for Wayne too. It was helping him feel at ease and more comfortable hopping back into coaching.

If you’ve never coached youth sports before, it can be a little intimidating, especially as the kids get older and become “smarter.” Parents are watching as well as the other coaches, so the pressure can be a lot. Just like our jobs in LP, people are always watching, so we need to find ways to help us get comfortable and lower the stress level. Developing rapport for a few minutes can solve this.

Why is this part so hard and why do so many interviewers shortchange it? Here are a few theories:

  • Rapport building is not scripted.
  • Not everyone is great at it.
  • We want to hurry up and get to the matter at hand.

Do yourself and your subject a favor and take a play from Wayne’s playbook. Find a little thing to develop rapport around and make it a habit. No skipping this step. You’ll have better results at the end of the interview, guaranteed.

Baseball has countless metaphors for life. It really is a great game with many lessons, not just for the players but for the coaches and fans too. We’re not sure what we’ll do next summer. Maybe there will be a team somewhere that needs a coach. I hope so.