My friend Steve is kind of a big deal in the world of documentary films. His company produces and distributes some of the finest direct-to-consumer educational, inspirational movies on the planet.
Cigars and Rapport
He’s well know in factual entertainment circles. As such, there’s a never-ending parade of executive producers and showrunners knocking on his door eager to pitch their projects to him in the hopes of getting a distribution deal with Steve’s company.
Yesterday when we were talking on the phone, Steve told me of his recent exchange with a film producer who had spent a fortune in research, on-location exploration and filming of a lost civilization in the deep jungles of Peru. The documentary was a fully produced series, and the producer was pitching hard, doing his best to get Steve’s full attention to sign a lucrative distribution deal that would potentially put a lot of money and new audiences in both mens’ pockets.
Unfortunately, the conversation was beginning to stall out. Issues related to mutual compatibility, financial risk, liabilities – typical sticking points – began to emerge like a fast rising tide.
Just as they were approaching an irretrievable impasse something remarkable happened…that essential thing every salesperson or deal maker prayers for and hopes to establish in the early stages of dealmaking. That thing called…
In dealmaking, rapport can be like magic. It can forge an ironclad bond in an instant in the right situation, and can grease the skids of an agreement like nothing else.
Cambridge Dictionary defines rapport as that which “forms the basis of meaningful, close and harmonious relationships between people. It’s the sense of connection that you get when you meet someone you like and trust, and whose point of view you understand. It’s the bond that forms when you discover that you share one another’s values and priorities in life.”
For Steve and his instant new best friend, the lightning rod of rapport was cigars. Yes. Smoking cigars. Not just any cigars…expensive Cubans.
Do you smoke cigars? Heck no, neither do I. But there’s a tight knit cadre of cigar-smokers who treat each other like the closest of kin. If you’ve seen a few guys (or women) toking on cigars together along with a splash of rare scotch on the side, you know what I’m talking talking.
But when it comes to rapport-building, curiously, cigars have that extra special something.
EGM Cigars of Switzerland says this about the mystique of cigars:
“Tobacco has been used across all different kinds of cultures for various reasons. Aside from pure enjoyment, smoking has been commonly used for spirituality. All across the planet, you can find churches, temples or any place of worship burning incense, myrrh and joss papers to release smoke as a form of spiritual practice. For Native Americans, they saw tobacco as a sacramental gift that can also be smoked as a form of prayer. Smoking tobacco was seen as a connection from the ground to the heavens, as the plant’s roots go deep into the earth, and its smoke rises high into the sky. Therefore, it’s no surprise that smoking Cuban cigars is an amazing way to meditate and become mindful amidst the hustle and bustle of modern life.”
Clearly, sharing cigars can create a spiritual atmosphere and emotional connection. And even the mention of your cigar passion can ignite the flames of commonality and connection, as was the case for Steve and his new best friend.
For me, my rapport-building mojo usually is focused around my unique passions – outdoor adventuring, extreme sports, motorcycles, fishing and hunting, music, art, books, etc.
In fact, nearly every relationship of any significance of mine includes one or several of these connection points.
What might yours be? Your favorite vacation spot…playing cards, running triathlons, your pets, riding horses, raising chickens, playing golf?
Over the years I’ve gotten pretty decent at rapport-building. I’ve had to, it’s part of every business development executive’s job.
Here’s a few tips…
Do a little research – Before meeting someone important to your future, go online and snoop a tad. Social media often provides a treasure trove of clues to disclose someone’s true passions. Travel photos, stories, memes, quotes, and videos posted on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest are dead giveaways of a person’s interests and passions. Find one that’s similar to yours and use it as a rapport building tool, but only at the right time.
Remember people’s names – It’s amazing how simple it is to remember someone’s name and use it discretely in a conversation. When you repeat a person’s name you are essentially commanding their attention. Just don’t use it too frequently, and use it sincerely. Otherwise an oft-repeated name can seem contrived and manipulative.
Keep an open mind – You have no idea what’s really going on behind someone’s eyes. It’s important not to prejudge a situation or person too quickly. Time will tell whether the person you’re dealing with can work with you toward a mutually beneficial deal. And, if you have mutual personal interests that might add glue to your emerging partnership.
Look and listen intently — Be a keen observer of body language, tone and style of communication. It can often tell you more about the person than their words. And when it comes to rapport-building, mirror the person’s style. If they’re energetic and intense, seek to match it. If they’re humorous, be funny back, or at least chuckle when it’s right to. But don’t be fake.
Ask good questions – The more you can learn about a person’s interests the tighter the bond you can forge. Asking relevant questions shows your interest in a person which always translates into further bridge-building.
Don’t overdo it – I can’t tell you the number of times protracted rapport-building can actually backfire on you. I’ve found that even the busiest and most successful executives leave room in a conversation to get personal and chatty, but not until the latter stages of a conversation or negotiation. Busy people want facts and relevant details quickly in order to make informed decisions which is top of mind when entering most business discussions. They want to make progress in a conversation quickly, especially when making critical decisions that involve the 3 Ps of dealmaking.. people, product and price.
Similarly, they will most often want to engage in a bit of small talk and connect personally by talking mutual interests like hobbies or families, to get to know you. But often only after the heavy lifting of dealmaking is done. Not every time, though. One must always use discretion with rapport-building. Not too much, not too little.
Did my buddy Steve eventually saddle up with this producer and add his documentary series to the company’s catalog of films?
Even after the warm and fuzzy cigar talk, he tells me he’s not sure it’s the right fit. But maybe…
Time will tell, or maybe Steve will pull the trigger and sign the deal after opening the gift box of fine Cubans his new best friend sends him for Christmas this year.
About SmoothStone Partners
SmoothStone Partners is a business development firm that carefully builds brands in the sports, entertainment and lifestyle space. SmoothStone Entertainment’s Talent Division is led by Phil Herzog who provides marketing and social media support to recording artists, entertainers, fine art and photography talent. Phil’s most recent endeavor, TrailMasters, is a new social network for men of adventure. His role as Chief Trail Guide seeks to encourage men to live their best lives through acts of leadership, character-building and charity. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org