How to Build Rapport

Discover tips and techniques for building a good rapport with people in your professional and personal life.



In all relationships, you have a level of give-and-take between you and the other person. Think of your closest friend at work. Maybe there is something about the way you relate to each other that feels better than relating with your other colleagues. That’s rapport.

In general, rapport typically involves feeling positively toward each other, being focused on and invested in each other, and having a sense of harmony (Hall et al., 2009). Rapport is also present when we talk about feeling a “click” or “chemistry” between us and another person (Tickle-Degnen & Rosenthal, 1990).

The opposite of rapport is the absence of warmth, attention, and caring. When a relationship lacks rapport, you do not feel compatible with the other person. Maybe you talk over each other or experience silences that go on a little too long. It doesn’t seem like you’re “getting” each other. Instead, you might find yourselves disagreeing, or even feeling cold toward each other.

We have likely all had this experience. Perhaps you’ve had a first date where you couldn’t find a conversational rhythm, and you quickly realized that the chemistry just wasn’t there. Maybe a salesperson overwhelmed you with information instead of actively listening to you, or a therapist seemed more interested in covering all their intake questions than in hearing your answers. What’s consistent across these situations is the experience of not feeling seen, understood, or cared for.

Why Rapport Matters

We know from research in the fields of psychology, medicine, and business that for trust to form in a relationship, good rapport must be established and maintained (Dang et al., 2017; Leslie & Lonneman, 2016; Macintosh, 2009). Therapists, doctors, and businesspeople alike practice their skills of rapport-building so that they can build profitable relationships with clients – whether the profit is a better health outcome or another car sold.

How to Build Rapport

When building rapport with another person, effective communication skills are essential (Leach, 2005). You can ask open-ended questions about the things that interest them, show curiosity about how the person thinks, show empathy, and do your best to paraphrase and summarize what you hear. Try to be attentive to and respectful of the other person’s values, beliefs, and personality traits that make them who they are. You may also find it helpful to share your own experiences that are closely related to theirs.

Your body language can also demonstrate your interest and openness toward the other person. Think of when you have felt most closely listened to. The person listening to you was probably engaging in some “mirroring” and “matching” behaviors (Sharpley et al., 2001). They probably had their body oriented toward you, were seated or standing in a posture similar to yours, and may even have been imitating your hand gestures.

Questions You Can Ask to Build Rapport

  • “Tell me about your kids.”

  • “Who are the most important people to you?”

  • “What about your job do you really enjoy?”

  • “How did you get into that line of work?”

  • “What do you look forward to doing on the weekends?”

  • “How do you spend your downtime?”

  • “What are your long-term goals?”

  • “What’s something you’ve always wanted to do?”

In Sum

With all this talk about how to build rapport, don’t lose sight of something important: to really have rapport with someone, it is essential that your heart be in it. You have probably been on the receiving end of somebody’s energetic but inauthentic attempts to connect with you, and I doubt it felt good. So when you want to truly connect, take a moment to focus on why the relationship truly matters to you. From that foundation, you can probably find the motivation to build a connection based on positive feelings toward each other and a sense of mutual understanding and respect.

References

  • Dang, B. N., Westbrook, R. A., Njue, S. M., & Giordano, T. P. (2017). Building trust and rapport in the new doctor-patient relationship: a longitudinal qualitative study. BMC Medical Education, 17, 32.

  • Hall, J. A., Roter, D. L., Blanch, D. C., & Frankel, R. M. (2009). Observer-rated rapport in interactions between medical students and standardized patients. Patient Education and Counseling, 76(3), 323-327.

  • Leach, M. J. (2005). Rapport: a key to treatment success. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 11(4), 262-265.

  • Leslie, J. L., & Lonneman, W. (2016). Promoting trust in the register nurse-patient relationship. Home Healthcare Now, 34(1), 38-42.

  • Macintosh, G. (2009). Examining the antecedents of trust and rapport in services: Discovering new interrelationships. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 16(4), 298-305.

  • Sharpley, C. F., Halat, J., Rabinowicz, T., Weiland, B., & Stafford, J. (2001). Standard posture, postural mirroring and client-perceived rapport. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 14(4), 267-280.

  • Tickle-Degnen, L., & Rosenthal, R. (1990). The nature of rapport and its nonverbal correlates. Psychological Inquiry, 1(4), 285-293.

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