Use workplace conversation - not personal conversation - to build rapport with your employees

Author Bruce Tulgan describes why it’s better to use business conversations to build rapport with employees rather than rely on personal details.
By Bruce Tulgan | December 31, 2007
Tulgan's Tips

You spend a lot of time talking with your employees about everything under the sun. Maybe you discuss personal matters to build a friendly rapport with them — until a difficult task comes up or worse, there's a problem that needs to be addressed. So you suddenly shift gears and start talking seriously, urgently and sometimes heatedly about the work. That's when the employee is likely to say, "Hey, I thought we were friends!" And all the rapport goes out the window.

If you build your rapport with employees by talking to them as if you're friends, when the conversation turns serious (as it always does), you have to go from being Mr. Nice-Guy-Friend to Mr. Jerk-Boss. Then, after the dust settles, you go back to being Mr. Nice-Guy-Friend again. The problem is that Mr. Friend starts feeling like a fake and Mr. Boss struggles for legitimacy, especially because all the rapport-building was done with Mr. Friend.

If you want to be a friend to your employees, go out for a beer with them after work. During business hours, your role is to keep everybody focused on the job and performing their best every day.

You can build rapport with your employees by talking about work that's been done and the work that needs to be done. Talk about avoiding pitfalls, finding shortcuts and making sure the employee has the resources necessary to do the job. Talk about goals, deadlines, guidelines and specifications.

Conversations between managers and employees should be interactive dialogues, not one-way conversations. Ask questions such as, "What are you going to do, and how are you going to do it? What steps will you follow? How long will each step take? What does your checklist look like?"

Use your growing knowledge of each person, his or her tasks and responsibilities and the overall situation to guide you in each conversation. The more you do it, the stronger and more informed your judgments will be about what can and cannot be done; what resources are necessary; what problems may occur; what expectations are reasonable; what goals and deadlines are sufficiently ambitious; and what counts as success versus failure.

Answer employees' questions as they arise. Get input from them throughout the process. Benefit consistently from what employees are learning on the front lines. And strategize together. Provide advice, support, motivation and yes, even inspiration once in awhile.

Author Information
Bruce Tulgan, founder of RainmakerThinking, is an advisor to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after speaker and seminar leader. Tulgan is the author of several books including, most recently, "It's Okay to be the Boss." He can be reached at


Tulgan's Tips

During office hours, keep focused on work. If you want to befriend your employees, grab a drink after work.

Talk about work that's been done. Talk about avoiding pitfalls, finding shortcuts and obtaining the right resources.

Keep conversations interactive. An employee/employer dialogue should not be one-sided.

Answer employees' questions as they arise. Get constant input and benefit from what your employees are saying.


Related Categories

PB-Management,PB-Leadership,PB-Best Practices