Building Rapport

Establishing Bonds

People building rapport.

Building bonds...

© iStockphoto/mediaphotos

Rapport is the ability to enter someone else's world, to make him feel that you understand him, that you have a strong common bond. – Motivational speaker Tony Robbins.

Have you ever known someone who has a knack for connecting with people? No matter who this person meets, he or she manages to create a sense of trust and understanding within a matter of minutes. 

We can intuitively believe that this is a natural gift – either you can build rapport like this, or you can't. However, this isn't correct: developing rapport is a skill that anyone can learn, and then use.

And it doesn't matter what industry you're in or what position you hold – knowing how to build rapport can bring you countless opportunities. After all, when you have rapport with someone, that person wants to help you succeed!

So what is rapport? And how you can learn the skills needed to build it? We'll examine all of this, and more, in this article.

About Rapport

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines rapport as "relation characterized by harmony, conformity, accord, or affinity."

Put simply, you have rapport with someone when there is mutual liking and trust. Once you've established rapport with a person, he or she is far more likely to be open with you and share information, buy your product, recommend you to others, or support your ideas. And when someone has established rapport with you, you're likely to do the same.

Why Build Rapport?

Building rapport is a skill that you can use anywhere.

For instance, you can use rapport to:

  • Create a positive connection with new or existing team members.
  • Build good relationships   with clients or suppliers.
  • Break the ice with new colleagues or with your boss when you start a new job.
  • Get support for your ideas and proposals.

In short, establishing rapport with people can open doors, create opportunities, and lead to excellent relationships.

Tip:

Rapport is similar to trust, and you can often build trust   and rapport simultaneously. However, building rapport focuses more on establishing a bond or connection.

Building Honest Rapport

Clearly, you can build rapport honestly, or you can use it cynically.

Good team working, for example, depends on good relationships. Honest rapport-building is great for developing these, and it benefits everyone.

However, if you're building rapport to sell someone something that they wouldn't otherwise want, or that will do them harm, then this is cynical and manipulative. Watch out for this type of rapport-building – you may encounter it often!

How to Build Rapport

We'll now look at strategies and techniques that you can use to build rapport with others.

1. Find Common Ground

Think of how comfortable you might feel if, while living thousands of miles from where you grew up, you met someone from your hometown. That sense of connectedness creates an instant rapport between two people!

When you meet someone new, do your best to find something you have in common. Use open-ended questions to discover some personal information about the person: perhaps you attended the same school or university, have the same favorite vacation spot, grew up in the same city, know the same people, or root for the same sports team.

Remember, any common ground can help establish rapport – it can even help to have an interest in someone's life or hobbies, or to share similar beliefs and values.

Tip:

It's important to be sincere here; don't make up an interest in something just to create rapport. Not only can this seem desperate; it can dent your credibility!

2. Focus on Your Appearance

How you dress is a key component of making a great first impression   and establishing rapport with someone. Your appearance should help you connect with people; not create a barrier.

For instance, imagine you're a sales rep calling on a plant supervisor. You're dressed in a well-tailored, expensive suit. Meanwhile, the supervisor has been working out on the floor all day; he's dressed in jeans, a worn flannel shirt, and work boots. The difference in your appearance is likely to make him feel uncomfortable and perhaps even slightly resentful.

A good rule of thumb is to dress just a little bit "better" than the people you're about to meet. Whenever possible, find out about this in advance. If you arrive and see that you're overdressed, you can quickly "dress down" by taking off your jacket or tie and by rolling up your shirtsleeves.

3. Be Empathic

Empathy is about understanding other people by seeing things from their perspective, and recognizing their emotions. Once you achieve this, it's easier to get "on their level."

To be more empathic  , develop your emotional intelligence   so that you can understand others better. You can also use Perceptual Positions   – a technique for seeing things from other people's perspectives.

4. Use Mirroring

Mirroring is when you adjust your own body language and spoken language so that you "reflect" that of the person you're talking to.

For example, law enforcement professionals apply the mirroring technique when interviewing witnesses, especially those who have been through a traumatic experience. They might mirror the victim's body language, and adjust the volume and tone of their voice to match the victim's.

To use mirroring:

  • Carefully watch the person's body language  , including gestures and posture. If the person is sitting down with both hands folded, then copy the person's posture. As the person grows more comfortable with you, he or she may relax and sit back: mirror this change in posture as well.
  • Mirror the other person's language. If he or she uses simple, direct words, then you should too. If the person speaks in technical language, then match that style if appropriate. When you respond, you can also reiterate key words or phrases that he or she used.
  • Copy the other person's speech patterns, such as vocal tone and volume. For instance, if he or she speaks softly and slowly, then lower the volume and tempo of your voice. (Research by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) suggests this is the most effective way to establish rapport. It's very subtle, but it makes the other person feel comfortable and, most importantly, it makes them feel that they're being understood.)

Tip 1:

While mirroring is useful in building rapport, don't match every word and gesture. Also, do this on a subtle level – being too overt can be counterproductive.

Tip 2:

Clearly, mirroring can be a very difficult skill to master. Consider using role playing   to practice it.

5. Don't Forget About the Basics

In developing rapport with others, you should also use the tried-and-true basics of good communication  :

  • Shaking hands firmly (in cultures where this is acceptable).
  • Looking people in the eye.
  • Smiling.
  • Holding your head up and maintaining good posture.
  • Asking open-ended questions.
  • Being sincere.
  • Facing the other person instead of looking at your computer screen or mobile device.

These basic tenets form the foundation of great communication, and it's hard to establish good rapport without them.

Tip 1:

Although there will be times when you will need to build rapport with someone quickly, it's best done as part of a longer-term relationship.

Tip 2:

It's important to use your best judgment when applying these techniques – as we've already mentioned, using these techniques incorrectly or dishonestly can actually stop you building rapport with people.

Re-establishing Rapport

Once rapport has been lost, rebuilding it takes time.

First, confront why you lost the rapport in the first place. Be humble   and explain honestly and simply what happened. If you need to apologize, do so.

Next, focus on ways of repairing any broken trust  . Make an extra effort to put in extra work if you need to, and keep your word. Transparency and showing a genuine concern for the other person's needs will go a long way in rebuilding trust and reestablishing rapport.

Key Points

You build rapport when you develop mutual trust, friendship, and affinity with someone.

Building rapport can be incredibly beneficial to your career – it opens doors and helps establish good relationships with clients, colleagues, and team members.

To build rapport, use the following strategies.

  • Find common ground.
  • Focus on your appearance.
  • Be empathic.
  • Mirror the other person.
  • Don't forget about the basics.

Building rapport is best done in the long-term. But you can use these strategies to build it quickly, if you need to.

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Comments (6)
  • Yolande wrote Over a month ago
    Two very powerful techniques indeed, honorata.

    Yolande
  • honorata wrote Over a month ago
    interesting especially when you talk about finding a common ground and mirroring. Will try them and am certain of wonderful results
  • Rachel wrote Over a month ago
    Hi all,

    Good relationships are built on rapport. But do you know what rapport is, and how you can build it?

    Find out more in this week's Featured Favorite article.

    Best wishes
    Rachel
  • Dianna wrote Over a month ago
    Hmmm... I'm not sure whether you can build honest rapport if trust is lacking. That would feel very fake for me so I would focus on building trust first and then building rapport a close second.

    Is this a current situation? Have you tried any trust building exercises to help? Have you had an open dialogue about the issue?

    Looking forward to exploring this further.

    Dianna
  • Wiggly1 wrote Over a month ago
    Great article. However what steps would be recommended to build rapport when you believe that there is a major trust issue? and are not convinced that the rapport can be rebuilt. Interested in your thoughts.
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Great article that reminds us all, whether we have good rapport skills or not, of all the little things that can make a big difference.

    For me, even using a small thing like finding common ground of interest or at least showing an interest in what they are interested in, can help you connect.

    I tend to sum up rapport as 'we all like people who are like ourselves' ... so rapport is about finding commonality and similarities to connect.

    Does anyone want to share their experiences about good, and perhaps not so good, experiences with creating rapport with others?
    Midgie

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