What is rapport? How does an RA develop rapport? How can rapport positively impact the community? Let’s explore these questions with a tale about a RA and her community.
As check-in fast approaches, Rachael is preparing to welcome her residents to their community. Three days before check-in, having received her floor roster fresh off the printer from her hall director, Rachael quickly begins learning her residents’ names and their associated room numbers. While creating the door tags Rachael took the time to remember each name and room number. During the two days after putting up the door tags Rachael peruses over the roster a few more times trying to get the names down. Since check-in is tomorrow, Rachael goes to bed early so she can get a full night’s rest.
Residents eagerly begin checking-in and moving their belonging to their rooms. Even with fifty residents Rachael goes to each room to introduce herself and refers to residents by name. Remembering most of which names go with what room, with door tags just in case, Rachael approaches each room with confidence. “Hello, my name is Rachael and I am your RA. Are you Kyle or Jamal?” Kyle says, “Oh, I’m Kyle, how are you doing? Hey, what can I do with my empty boxes?” Rachael responds, “You can just take them down to the dumpsters outside the main entrance. Hey, I noticed your guitar, do you play?” “Actually I do play in a band with Jamal who should be moving in this afternoon. He plays the drums.” Rachael makes a mental note of the music connection between Kyle and Jamal and remembers that they play in a band together. She responds, “That’s pretty cool. I’d love to hear you play sometime. Well, I better go meet some more people on our floor. Our first floor meeting will be at 7pm in the lounge. I’ll see you there.”
Even though Rachael is very shy, she feels pretty comfortable introducing herself and simply identifying one interest or characteristic about each of her residents. Mentally correlating room numbers, names and interests gives Rachael a link to each resident. Throughout the day she meets most of her residents, introducing herself, casually identifying the distinctions between her diverse residents. Sometimes it is where they are from, the posters they have on their wall or even the music they are playing when she comes to their room. She recognizes that there is something unique about each resident that she can connect with as well as connect residents to each other.
The floor meeting goes very well since Rachael went around and repeated everyone’s name after they introduced themselves just once. Rachael wanted to be sure her residents know that she already knows most, if not all of their names. Her icebreaker activity included asking everyone to share where they were from, their intended major and one of their hobbies. Paying careful attention, Rachael made additional connections to each resident.
Having a good foundation of knowledge about each of her residents allows Rachael to casual interact with her residents on a daily basis. At least once a day she goes to the open doors of her residents to check-in with them to see how things are going. Asking questions about their first day of classes and their professors, or if they have had a chance to indulge in their hobby whether it is mountain biking, listening to music, playing on-line games or just hanging out with friends.
What Rachael’s residents really like about her is that she seems genuinely, but unobtrusively, interested in them and their well-being. She actually seems to pay attention to what they say and seems to have common interests and curiosity about the things they care about. Residents find that it is easy to respect Rachael because she respects them and really seems to know them and remembers what they share with her. When possible, she even attends events involving her residents to show her support. While she does all of this, residents can easily see that Rachael has a life and relationships of her own with people outside of the building.
Rachael finds creating her first program to be pretty easy since she already knows that many of her residents like to exercise. She invites one of her resident’s health and physiology professors to do a fitness workshop. Everyone who is available shows up for the program and stay even after the program is over. The next day everyone tells Rachael how much they enjoyed the program.
Based on what she has gathered from her residents and shared of herself Rachael finds starting conversations with her residents to be fairly easy. By simply showing an interest in their lives and activities she has developed a relationship with all of her residents. She can easily tell you one thing about each of them, and after a few weeks can easily tell you who lives in what room. When her residents have a problem they feel safe to come to her since from the first day she has demonstrated that she honestly cares about them.
There is “something” that Rachael shares with her residents that she has created over a period of time. This “something”, called rapport, is a bond or relationship shared among people established through mutual respect, trust and care. All of Rachael’s actions over the course of the semester have been intentional. However, the root of her actions is her care and concern about her residents’ well-being and her desire for them to be successful.
Rachael provides great lessons about rapport building through her example. Demonstrating that you care about your residents and know who they are and what matters to them is foundational to creating rapport. As with Rachael, you don’t have to be extremely outgoing or gregarious to get to know your residents. Being yourself and consistently showing sincere interest is what matters the most.
Taking the time to learn each resident’s name and their interest demonstrates a commitment and care. While the task may seem daunting, it is only because we often don’t make name learning an intentional activity. The brain is more than capable of learning these names, and doing so only requires some effort. Rachael consistently reviewed her roster and the names on it before check-in. When she approached residents she was sure to use their names, which not only made them feel special, but also reinforced their names.
Everyone has an interest in something even if that interest is simply hanging out. Giving residents an opportunity to share their hobbies is easy if you simply ask them. A question such as, “Hey, I noticed the instrument case in your corner, what do you play?” can easily generate a conversation. Once you find out your resident plays in the marching band you can be sure to watch for her when you attend the next game. Afterwards, you can tell her you enjoyed the half-time show and that you saw her on the field. Simply conveying the message that each resident matters to you will not only strengthen their connections to you, but will role model the behavior you want to see happen with others as well.
There are many benefits to having a community that not only has rapport with the RA, but also among residents. Residents who share rapport feel like they are important to both the RA and to each other. They are more likely to be actively involved within the community. In addition, they are more likely to stay within the community, and also stay in school and be academically successful and engaged with learning. These are the students who will run into their RA in ten years and tell them how much they enjoyed living on the floor.
Having a community that has rapport does not guarantee or even imply utopia. However, conflicts or more easily resolved and behavior tends to be more positive when there is good rapport. When residents respect a RA that shows authentic concern for them they are likely to return the sentiment with kindness and respect as well. This often leads to communities that work towards governing themselves by setting community standards and holding each other accountable to these standards without the need for involving the RA for minor conflicts.
Rachael invested a great deal of time, energy and effort to build rapport with her residents. Her actions, while motivated by her desire to be a good RA who knows and serves her community, required courage along with intentional and consistent actions over a period of time. Such a strong community cannot happen overnight. In fact, a RA is always working on building rapport with and among residents, and a strong and vibrant community becomes that way through rapport. Once in place such a community can withstand the challenges that come with communal living. Even though the initial investment may seem hefty, the benefit for residents will be absolutely phenomenal and pay dividends long after check-out.
Submitted by Tom Segar, Director of Multicultural Student Affairs and Disability Support Services, Shepherd University