A Thought on Establishing Rapport

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker—

  • Philemon 1:1

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

  • 2 Peter 1:1-2

The elder,
To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth.
Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.

  • 3 John 1:1-2

When I was first assigned to the training department after being an engineer for over ten years, I signed up for trade magazines, contacted instructional development professional organizations, and took every class that the company would pay for.  While knowing my subject matter was important, knowing how to connect with the trainees in the classroom was important, maybe more so.  You need them to want to pay attention before they will pay attention.  And paying attention is important if you want them to learn something.

Thus, first impressions are important.  When I first started teaching, I had most recently been the troubleshooting expert that they called if a deadline was approaching and they had to get something working in a hurry, something that normal repair methods had not fixed – and seemingly always at two in the morning.  Thus, everyone knew me, and they knew that I knew my stuff.  When I moved on to the NASA project, I did more behind the scenes policy writing, negotiations, data collection, and photography and video data gathering.

But in my job as a travelling consultant, I would usually have someone else introduce me.  One boss of mine worked for me on many projects as one of my instructors.  He set the tone for my self-deprecating means of establishing rapport.  I used self-deprecation because I had heard it said too many times that engineers did not know anything.  They did not get their hands dirty.  But this boss would introduce me, maybe even mention my years of experience and bits of history.  Then he would say, “He is the Training Manager at our company.  But don’t think to highly of him.  All that means is that he gets blamed if anything goes wrong during the training.”  I would then invariably get tongue tied within the first hour-long lecture.  To cover for my flub, I would say, “Please forgive me.  After all, I’m just a dumb ole farm boy fum Mi’sippi.”

You see, most of the time when in the USA, we taught classes at steel mills.  The average education was roughly around high school diploma and most had not had any education classes over the past 10-20 years.  Now, their company management was bringing in some “suits” from a highly respected engineering company.  The deal was that they did not respect the engineers at their plant that much and their engineers were more familiar with their equipment than we were, unless we had designed it, which was not always the case.  But I was considered a “suit”, meaning someone in an office that never got his hands dirty.  Their expectation was that I knew nothing.

But then, as they were filing into the classroom, I gave them donuts to eat.  While they were eating and swapping stories, I paid little attention to them.  (Really, I was listening to learn who the “characters” were and what their interests were, but I pretended to not pay attention.  I once, while in Maharashtra, India, had an animated discussion about Indian cricket, because I knew where their passions were.  I had to watch and study beforehand.)  I had something more important to do than enter into the morning coffee klatch banter, I needed to get my hands dirty.  I would grab a wrench and make an unnecessary adjustment to the demonstration equipment.  They had not been around when I assembled the equipment the day before, but they needed to know that I was the muscle behind the wrench.  I might even bark a few instructions to my assistant, even if he was my boss back in the office, to show how the lines of communication had to be established for safe operations.  We would check instrument response, flows and pressures, stuff like that, so there were no “surprises” when we needed the demonstrations in class.  But it was partly for show, to let them know we were dirty-handed engineers.

Thus, when I lowered their expectations of listening to an egg head living in an ivory tower to the point where this guy gets his hands dirty; he’s not from an ivy league school; he doesn’t always use proper English.  …  We might be wrong, but this guy could be one of us.

When I first went to work for the engineering company, they were old school.  They insisted on us wearing suits in class.  I had to light the demonstration furnace, so I had to change into a fire-retardant (FR) jacket.  I convinced them to change the dress code to dress shirts and neck ties.  I would then dramatically remove the tie as I started my first lecture.  I had been taught years before that you always dressed slightly better than the people in the class.  About the same to establish rapport, but a little better to let the class know who was in charge.  It took me a while to convince my new employer that a more relaxed dress code was more effective.  Years later, the company as a whole established a uniform shirt, so that all the engineers looked like they fit in with the customer’s employees.  I was teaching more than the customer’s employees – also my own managers.

I wrote recently about how I needed to get more serious, at times, and show that I really did learn something while obtaining a masters’ degree in chemical engineering and honor graduate status from two army engineering officer schools.  I had played the “dumb ole farm boy” card too often, and I was too comfortable in that role.  Time will tell if I pull that off.

So, if first impressions are important, how did the Apostles Paul, Peter, and John start their letters?  I chose three, randomly.

When Paul wrote to Philemon, he introduces himself as a prisoner of Jesus Christ.  Paul was indeed a prisoner in Rome at the time, but rather than focus on who held the key to his cell, Paul focused on Jesus.  In other epistles, Paul calls himself a bond servant, in most cases portraying himself as a lowly servant.  The reader knows better with Paul starting their church group, but Paul wants the focus away from himself and onto Jesus.  This puts Paul in the role as a “good ole boy” who understands the issue at hand and has gotten his hands dirty in the past.

Simon Peter, in 2 Peter 1, establishes the servant but also the apostle within the first few words.  He lists servant first.  This is more formal than Paul’s greeting, but he follows his credentials with flowing words about the righteousness of God the Father and Jesus Christ being within them.  He then blesses them with wishes of Grace and Peace in abundance.  Peter starts off a bit stiff, but he gets around to the verbal “donuts.”  Yet, spiritually, Grace and Peace are far more than donuts.  Peter has established himself as someone to be heard and someone who cares personally about them.

Then John is the passionate one.  He speaks of love, a wish for health, both physically and spiritually by mentioning Gaius’ soul.

I listened to an interview between Mark Lowry and Candy Christmas just before writing this.  I just wanted to listen to it, no idea of using it.  Candy Christmas was a Gaither Homecoming regular and soloist.  She had been singing in churches and revivals since she first recorded an album at age 13, her parents and grandparents were in the Southern Gospel industry.  But she became depressed, wondering if she would ever be good enough.  She took a break from singing to sort things out and within a two-year period, she met a man who cooked hot dogs for homeless people under a bridge in Nashville.  He asked her if she could cook.  She said she could cook a pot of Jambalaya (having been raised in Louisiana).  She was “hired.”  When she met the people beneath the bridge (an interstate bridge), she found her true calling.  She and her husband (She was born with the name “Candy”, but she married a man with the name Christmas – not a stage name.) started the bridge ministries in Nashville, feeding hundreds of people once each week and having a worship service afterwards.  Most missions do it the other way around, but Candy understood that they would listen better if their belly was full.  She establishes rapport with those to whom she ministers.  She isn’t the award-winning recording artist who came down to have a “photo op.”  She was a friend, and she was among friends.  She told Mark Lowry in the interview that she didn’t start off with asking them to accept Jesus.  She started by loving them.  The witnessing and praying and asking them to accept Jesus would come, but after they knew that she loved them.

This is an episode of Mark Lowry’s Mondays with Mark podcast on Youtube and maybe Facebook.  He starts the interview at about 11 minutes into the video, and after about 18 minutes of them talking and singing a song, she gives Mark a tour of her warehouse.  If you don’t recognize Candy, add a lot more hair.  Otherwise, she looks the same as she did on the Gaither Homecoming videos.

There is a cringeworthy part of this video.  Mark Lowry encourages Candy to sing a song with him.  It was lovely.  Then Lowry starts encouraging her to use her musical talent.  Candy had sunk into depression, constantly thinking that she wasn’t good enough, depending on praise from others, but in finding her calling under a bridge, not singing is not a bad thing.  There are a lot of good singers who have a calling in something other than music.  But Mark Lowry meant well.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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