Jumping into conversations with complete strangers can be nerve-racking, hard, and just downright scary. I'm not going to tell you that this work of working with others to tell their stories is always easy. What I am going to do is offer suggestions, advice, and my own experiences to help you along the way. In this article, I'm going to share what I've done to build rapport and how I have trained others to build rapport with their storytellers.
What you need to know
This is all about how to build rapport. What the heck am I talking about? I'm talking about that feeling, that connection, that happens when you and your storyteller really get rolling. They start trusting you, you trust them. And you both know that you can share something, maybe be a little vulnerable, and everyone and everything is going to be okay. So how do we get to that part? By following these simple suggestions!
Find common ground
I recommend starting to build rapport by finding common ground. You can find common ground by using the storytelling scripts that you can find here or asking about their favorite memory that day. You could keep it current and ask their favorite thing that happened that day. Other examples include asking about their favorite food, favorite book, or favorite sport. Basically, anything that lights you up, see if it lights them up, and that is how you can start finding common ground.
The 5-minute storytelling scripts are a great way to begin finding common ground with someone. They offer a way to innocuously introduce various topics without committing you or your Storyteller to a full-blown conversation on the topic. Use them as a guide to begin having meaningful conversations about things you both enjoy talking about.
Remember what they said
Next up, sorry, is remembering what they shared. Remembering what they shared, what they told you, is so incredibly important when it comes to building rapport. It's something that some folks struggle with.
Personally, I have to write notes on business cards, and I have to write notes on the sides of pictures. If I’m adding you to my phone contacts and we just met, I totally saved your name with where I met you, and what I need to remember. Right then all of that goes into my contact information.
Sometimes that’s difficult for those of you that are out in the field. If you're in a facility and you can't write notes down about someone, I totally get it. Just do your best. All we can do in any given moment is our best. Your storyteller is going to understand that.
Share your story, after listening to theirs
Next up, is remembering to share your story. So when you ask someone else a question, they might ask you one in return. It’s okay to share with the person you’re working with. They might ask you your favorite something, or they might even pause for a moment to see if you'll jump in and share.
If they do this, take advantage of it. This is an opportunity to let them know that you care too, and that you want them to feel confident and comfortable with you. Sharing your own story is showing them that you care enough about them as a person and that you're willing to share some of yourself.
Put it in Action
In this whole building rapport thing, it has been my experience that if you can do these three things, and do them consistently, it’s easier for everyone. So over a few sessions, maybe even in a first session, you'll be able to get the person to open up. They might share some emotional details and they might be able to discuss, recall, or even feel confident enough to reach out to family and talk to them about this memory. For me, those are the moments that are most precious.
When someone wants to tell their story, it can grow into them wanting to reach out to a family member or a loved one and share this moment that they just shared with a complete stranger. That's huge. Most people find it easier to talk to complete strangers or to someone who they don't have any emotional investment in, or long term emotional investment in or they aren't afraid of disappointing. It's easier for them to talk to them and tell their stories. When it comes to loved ones, we’re potentially afraid of disappointing them and being judged. It can be hard to reach out and share about ourselves.
I know that was a lot so to review… To build rapport and have conversations you begin with finding common ground, remember what they shared with you, and share your story. Remember that putting this into action can be one of the hardest things. Be easy on yourself and take the time you need to get comfortable with including these into your daily interactions.
Abbreviated Audio Version
Looking for that thing to help you keep your storytellers engaged and talking? For the writer's in your care, this journal will keep them talking for a good long while. Encourage them (if they can) to reach out via phone or video to family members and share the memories they write about.
This journal was designed for storytellers in their sunset years who are ready to write about and share their memories. Simple to use and elegant enough to keep around to remind you of them long after they are gone.