When we’re new to a company or a team, and especially when we’re in a managerial role, rapport building is essential to success. Forming bonds with colleagues and team members makes collaboration more fun and results more rewarding. 

The time and effort required to build rapport in a company that is brand new to you, can feel daunting. The desire to feel a part of the group, liked, and even appreciated can easily drag us into conversations we’d rather not be in. 

A Case For Staying Out Of The Middle 

This is what happened to Jacob a few months into his new role at a company 635 miles from anyone he knew.    

“One of our teams is struggling with low morale,” Jacob shared, “and they are coming to me to help them deal with the manager that is driving the bad morale. Then I have that same manager asking me for advice on how to influence more than direct. I feel like I am playing on both sides of the fence. Am I on ethically shaky ground?” 

First, kudos to Jacob for recognizing his discomfort around being on ethically shaky ground. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right. But how do you get out of the middle, especially when it feels like you’re developing rapport with both sides by listening to them? 

The Key To Getting Out Of The Middle 

We get out of the middle by first recognizing the negative impact of being in the middle, which is essentially participating in gossip. Anytime we’re talking negatively about (or listening to someone talk about) someone, it’s gossip. We usually know that we’re gossiping (which destroys rapport) when— 

  1. We feel bad (“on ethically shaky ground”) when we’re saying (or listening to) it, and
  2. When we would never say it in front of the person we’re talking about.

Gossip has an addictive quality to it because it leaves us feeling like we know something that other people don’t, or that we’re the trusted advisor. It also helps us avoid the uncomfortable feelings we’re experiencing–like the discomfort of being new. 

Avoid Harming Your Relationships 

It seems easier—like a short-cut to rapport building—to engage in negative conversations about other people, but it actually does the opposite. 

Social scientist and author Brené Brown says gossip harms our relationships more than we realize. So many of us use it as a way to “hot wire” a connection, but that intimacy isn’t real—it’s counterfeit trust. 

So, the next time you find yourself in the middle, disengage, change the subject, or, if you need to (because it keeps happening), simply say, “This feels like gossip.” 

Avoiding Gossip Can Strengthen Rapport 

Most people don’t want to gossip. We don’t always realize when we’re gossiping. When it’s made evident, it usually stops. 

Also, if you goal is to build rapport, consider learning more about the people you work with—what are their hobbies, goals, and passions? How did they come to work for the company? What keeps them there? Do they have a family? Do you? Share about your interests, passions, and even your frustrations with your lawnmower that won’t start. 

Building rapport takes time, courage, and your willingness to be vulnerable and intolerant of gossip. By putting our time, energy, and focus on the right conversations, you strengthen trust, connection, camaraderie, and your company culture. 

Here’s to your greatness,  

Misti Burmeister 

Misti Burmeister helps leaders and their team have conversations they keep avoiding but need to have. For nearly 20 years, she has facilitated communication that results in trust, increasing engagement and productivity across generations. Make sure your communication is coming across the way you intend, visit https://www.MistiBurmeister.com