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Relationship or Just Rapport? Here’s How to Know.

Relationship or Just Rapport? Here’s How to Know.

When we talk about the importance of the Friendship Trigger as a foundation for influence and persuasion, we’re focused on the development of trust. The extent to which this can be accomplished in brand relationships, e.g. through media and marketing, is more limited than what’s possible in direct business relationships, but critical nonetheless – the Clinton campaign, for example, used some savvy communication techniques to try and activate the Friendship Trigger as part of their initial announcement media.

In direct business relationships there’s a wide gap between developing a relationship and merely establishing rapport. Rapport is about manners, personal style, and respect – vital precursors to relationship building, but essentially superficial; not enough of a foundation to establish trust and lay the groundwork for influence and persuasion.

So, how do you know when you’ve graduated from rapport to relationship?

According to a recent article in the Harvard Gazette citing a new report from researchers at Harvard Business School, Columbia Business School, and INSEAD, the European business school, the test of whether you’ve actually succeeded in establishing a relationship may be sarcasm.

That’s right, sarcasm.

“To create or decode sarcasm,” explained Harvard researcher Francesca Gino, “both the expressers and recipients of sarcasm need to overcome the contradiction (i.e., psychological distance) between the literal and actual meanings of the sarcastic expressions.” In other words, the conversational participants need to be able to interpret – and believe – the intended message beyond the apparent one. And confidence in that interpretation requites a single important factor: trust.

Money quote:

“…for the first time, our research proposed and has shown that to minimize the relational cost while still benefiting creatively, sarcasm is better used between people who have a trusting relationship.” 

We’ve all been there. We’re inspired to express something sarcastically, but stop ourselves – ostensibly to wonder whether it will be “taken the right way.” According to the new research, that moment may be an ideal test for the perceived level of trust between individuals, and its implications for whether or not a true relationship has been established. If you feel entirely comfortable using sarcasm with no hesitation, chances are you’ve got a relationship. If that little voice in your head stops you, you’ve probably got some relationship-building work left to do.