Today was a good day. While I don’t usually characterize my days as good or bad, I must say that today was the exception to the rule. I guess part of the reason I had a good day was the fact that I had a pretty good weekend. Traveled a few thousand miles back to the South and had a random adventure in the urban section of Atlanta with a friend and some others. Witnessed an altercation that could have quickly turned into a fight and did some advocating and mediation that actually had some positive results. But I digress. Today I got a chance to spend some time with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while and I really enjoyed it. As I grow older I have found that good conversation is a luxury that is often disregarded. While there are people I talk to fairly regularly and keep in touch with through phone calls or texts, there’s no substitute for a genuine human face to face interaction with someone I enjoy talking to. It’s a great feeling to have an intelligent conversation without constantly backtracking and feeling like you may be offending the other person and that they don’t understand where you’re coming from. It was also great seeing a familiar face because that rarely happens unless I travel a significant distance. I personally enjoy good conversations because they can be so enlightening and helpful. Those kind of conversations are even better when you have rapport with the person and there are mutual interests and a history of shared experiences. Those are the conversations that keep you awake, alert, and engaged despite just finishing your 12 hour shift and being beyond exhausted. Yup, it was a good day.
I don’t do therapy as much as I used to and one thing that I enjoyed about the process was building rapport with clients. I once heard someone say that if you can’t build rapport within the first 15 minutes of a professional relationship, your chances are pretty much shot. The truth is that we expect people who are professionals we are paying to know what they are talking about. No one really wants a therapist who only has listening skills but has no knowledge base of interventions. A good friend with common sense can accomplish that. The thing about rapport is that it can be built fast or very slow depending on the situation. One of the easiest ways in the therapy room is to do an introduction of yourself and some cool non-personal facts about you. This helps to break the ice and encourages the client to open up about his or her dislikes. Emphasizing that questions are always welcome and adopting a collaborative approach to therapy can also be awesome tools to build rapport. As a therapist, I have to constantly be aware of the amount of rapport I have with each client. While some may trust me starting from session one, it may take six sessions for that to happen with another client. The more rapport I have with a client, the more I can push them out of their comfort zone and challenge them. If they know they can trust me they will feel safe enough to be uncomfortable and work on things that they hide from other people. While I make a very clear distinction between doing therapy and listening to the challenges of friends or associates around me, the rapport thing still holds true. While I’m not going to do a full-fledged intervention with a friend, I have to be aware of how much rapport I have with him or her and choose my words accordingly. Established and secure friendships will get a more candid and unfiltered response while associates and acquaintances will get a more blanket and general response. It’s all related to the rapport I have with them. There are many times I’ve wanted to give a more candid response to an associate or acquaintance but the fact that I do not have enough rapport with them for them to not be offended has stopped me. I conceptualize rapport as being a bank. Deposits happen when there are similar interests, trust is present, and there’s a sense of emotional safety. Withdrawals occur when you have to say something that is uncomfortable or may cause the other person to be offended. If you have enough rapport in the bank with them they won’t lash out at you because you’ve put time into building rapport. If there is not enough rapport in the bank you go into overdraft with a very angry and offended person with the risk of alienation because you overstepped the boundaries of the relationship.