Posted on: June 1st, 2012 by Jen Mueller

I could feel the stares as I sat in the dugout.

The warm Tennessee sun made me sweat, but so did the thought of the task ahead.

I couldn’t hide from the curious looks from the players as I ran down my “to-do” list.  I had two and a half days to complete more than a dozen interviews with members of the Jackson Generals baseball team and compile enough features to fill a 30-minute show.

The catch?  I’d never met most of the people I was interviewing and I had limited time to build rapport.

Parachuting into unfamiliar situations isn’t easy.  Think about the time you went to the conference by yourself.  Or decided to take that training class on your own.  What about the time you went solo to the networking function, or the last time you started a new job.

building rapport, improving workplace relationships

Jen Mueller and Danny Hultzen during an interview in Jackson.

All of those examples put you in a situation that makes most people squirm.  Even an outgoing person can feel overwhelmed.  (Trust me, I speak from experience on this one.)  You could keep to yourself and hope for the best, but your productivity will suffer and you won’t get the most benefit out of the situation.  Building rapport is crucial to get ‘buy in’ so it doesn’t feel like you’re twisting someone’s arm for help.  ‘Buy in’ increases ownership of the situation and promotes a smoother flow of ideas.

As a sports reporter, I often parachute into situations to do interviews like in the example at the top of the post.  When I can build rapport with an athlete or coach, the conversations go much smoother and the interactions are more natural.  That in turn, reduces my stress and allows me to work more efficiently.

Here are 5 ways to build rapport when you don’t know anyone in the room.

  1. Be seen.  Resist the urge to keep to yourself in the corner of the room.  Simply being in the space allows you to ease into the environment and helps others warm up to being there.  For me, this means standing at practices just to the athletes get used to seeing me in their space.  When someone feels as if they’ve seen you around, it’s much easier to strike up a conversation.
  2. Use your manners.  You don’t need to say anything clever or witty right off the bat.  Just be polite and courteous.  Saying something like, “Hi, how’s your day?” or “Hi, my name is Jen.” Is a perfectly polite way to get the ball rolling.
  3. Get on a First Name Basis.  Using someone’s first name accomplishes two important goals in rapport building.  First, calling someone by his name makes him feel like a real person.  I’ve seen it time and time again with athletes who are used to being called by their last name or simply by a number.  Secondly, when you address someone in particular it directs the conversation to that person and prompts him to respond.  Addressing a large group and saying “Hey how was your day?” might lead to silence because no one knows who should talk.
  4.  Understand Time and Place.  There is a time for everything and you’re not the only one in the situations with goals and tasks to accomplish.  If a specific conversation isn’t going the way you’d hoped take a break.  There’s a good chance it’s not a good time for the person you’re speaking with.  You’ll get much further in the rapport building process if you come back to that person later.
  5. Pace Yourself.  Timing is everything when building rapport and forcing it to happen will only make things awkward, uncomfortable and unproductive.  Allow the conversation and interaction to have a little breathing room.  If you need to talk business during the first conversation, keep it quick because the rapport you’re trying to build happens outside of work conversations.

Accomplishing steps 2-5 can take as little as 2-3 minutes.  Building rapport starts with the small stuff and branches out.

In case you’re wondering, the curious stares from the baseball team were quickly replaced by laughter and joking after just a couple hours.  The interviews were accomplished and we built enough rapport that future interviews will be a piece of cake.


Jen Mueller, America’s Expert Talker, helps business professionals understand the sports conversations that happen every day at work.  She’s also helping them climb the corporate ladder through her program “What Do I Say?” Jen’s practical approach helps professionals join the conversations, sound intelligent, and understand how their communication skills can make ’em or break ’em in business.  Her conversation strategy comes from her 12 years of experience as a sports broadcaster.  Jen is available to speak for keynotes, presentations and workshops.  Contact for more information and read more at