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How to Establish Good Rapport Even In the Most Difficult and Awkward Interviews

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Here are some helpful hints on how to establish and maintain rapport even in the most difficult and awkward interviews, where emotions are so close to the surface they are likely to burst out at any moment.

Maintaining rapport in difficult interviews

  • Approach the interview with inner strength and control, not by bullying the interviewee or abusing your power but by the way you hold yourself, the way you speak to the interviewee and the professional way you conduct the proceedings.

  • If you dislike the interviewee, admitting it to yourself will free you of embarrassment and you can deal with the matter calmly and objectively.

  • If you have to criticize, do so without feeling the need to defend yourself or to apologize for doing what is, after all, your job.

  • Remember always to treat interviewees as you would wish to be treated if you were in their shoes.

  • Prepare the room to ensure privacy and quiet. Try, if possible, to sit near the interviewee - not more than a meter or two away. If you remain behind your desk it makes the interview more of a confrontation.

  • Greet interviewees in a friendly way; let them settle down, and then start straight in without any preliminaries. They probably know the reason for the interview, and the longer you delay getting to the point, the more apprehensive and defensive they will become.

  • Set out the facts as you know them and explain why they are being dismissed. Do not drag out the reasons.

  • Make it clear that the decision is irreversible, otherwise you will find yourself involved either in fending off pleas for reconsideration, which will be embarrassing for both of you, or in defending your decision.

  • Invite the interviewees to give their side of the story, explaining that you are looking for explanations, not excuses. Again, do not let this drag out. The quicker the better for both of you.

  • Do not attack them personally; rather describe the circumstances leading to the dismissal.

  • Do not allow the interviewee to manipulate you through sympathy, but remain calm, composed and in control.

  • Always give dismissed employees a chance to let off steam, but do not
    - argue with them
    - lose your temper
    - encourage them to criticize or tell tales on others
    - patronize them or treat them like naughty children
    - defend company policy
Coping with strong emotions

When told they are being dismissed, employees react in different ways depending on the kind of people they are. For ease of reference, I have divided them up into five possible types and have suggested how to handle them. It is important to point out, however, that they are only types and you cannot predict exactly how people will behave, no matter how well you know them, until they are actually faced with the dismissal.

The five categories are:
  1. Attackers

  2. Defenders

  3. Lawyers

  4. Philosophers

  5. Weepers
Attackers feel rage and hurt. They react by shouting at you or the company, or by showing contempt and disgust for the way they have been treated. Some are more open about their anger than others. It is best to get the anger out into the open so that you can get on with the other, more important matters.

Remain calm and objective. Don't trade insults or go on the defensive. Keep to the facts and offer any helpful advice. Defenders accept with reluctance that they have done wrong, but they are so consumed with fear for their future that they will plead with you to reconsider your decision.

Explain that the fault lies with both of you: you were wrong to employ them and they were wrong to take the job, but do not enter into any discussions about, or agree to a postponement of, your decision. Show them that you are concerned for their future and give them details of agencies that may help them.

Lawyers are as angry and hurt as the attackers but they do not show it. Instead, they convert it into revenge. They want you to suffer as they have, and because they have some knowledge of employment legislation, they threaten to use it against you. Before you reach the dismissal interview, you should know as much about your rights - and theirs - as they do. Do not treat their threats lightly, nor let them frighten you into taking rash decisions. Let them state their case and respond in a firm and formal manner. You cannot, of course, stop them from taking action against you if they think they have a case for wrongful dismissal, but point out that legal representation can cost money and they may lose.

Philosophers may have anticipated your actions and have prepared themselves for it. They may even be relieved that one of you has taken the inevitable decision. To the employer, their shoulder-shrugging indifference to the news is sometimes more disconcerting than anger or tears. However, their apparent stoicism could also be hiding shock and disbelief. Invite specific questions from them and suggest they consult a career counselor if they are uncertain what to do next.

Weepers are probably dreaded (especially by male managers) more than any of the others, because their employers are made to feel helpless and guilty. Embarrassed, they respond either with irritation - 'Why are you making such a fuss. It's only a job!' - or with an excess of sympathy - 'I know how awful this must be for you, but I'm sure it's the best thing in the long run.' (Women, in the main, handle weepers more professionally; they are able to balance genuine concern with doing their job.) Weepers are likely to feel just as embarrassed as interviewers, who need to show a little patience and tact to allow them to recover their composure. Accept the fact that you cannot make things right for them. All you can offer is a tissue if they need one, a modicum of reassurance and, more practically, the names of some useful agencies which they can contact if they need further assistance.

In contrast to disciplinary and dismissal interviews, in resignation interviews you may have interviewees who are eager to move on to other, better, jobs. You have to accept this with good grace and show interest in their future. Surliness and indignation in the face of their happiness is a sign of immaturity and reveals a low state of morale in your team. Be pleased for them, knowing that the experience they got from working for you reflects well on your organization
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