It is always nice when you can develop rapport with a hiring manager. While it does not always work, there are several things that you can do to try to develop some common ground that could create a more relaxed conversation.
Greet all the people you encounter when arriving for the interview. You want to be friendly and project an air of someone with whom others will love to share their environment. Never underestimate the power of the people you come in contact with, as they are often asked for their input regarding your behavior.
Observe the overall demeanor of the office setting, does it appear to be relaxed, with employees comfortably interacting with each other, or perhaps more structured and even militaristic? These observations can often times give you an idea of the leadership style.
If you are interviewed in the hiring manager’s office look around, how does it look? Is it an area that looks comfortable, with pictures of family and personal objects such as a golf club, a hockey stick, or other memorabilia that lets you know their interests? If so, that may give you some common ground for a brief discussion to relieve tension.
If the office is devoid of anything personal, neat as a pin and everything in its place, this could signal a very neat and structured person who will probably want to get right down to business, and that is ok as well. You might just comment on the neatness of the office and comment on how nice it looks especially if that is your style as well.
If you are interviewed in another setting, it might be more difficult to determine nuances about the hiring manager. Regardless of the circumstances, another thing that you should be looking for is what is really important to the interviewer, so listen very carefully to what they talk about or focus on. For some, it might be past experience, employee being flexible or creativity, getting along in a team environment, or what aspect of the job appears to create more interest. At the first chance you have after you leave the interview, take time to review the interview, what went wrong or right, what would you change, and what should you focus on in your thank you follow up. Your thank you note is your second chance to make a good impression!