If you’ve been in business for a while, then you’ve probably heard the term “rapport building.”
But what does that actually mean? Is it a skill you can develop or something you’re born with? Are there specific guidelines or principles to build rapport with someone?
More importantly, how can you build rapport with everyone in your organization?
Today, we’ll answer those questions as clearly as possible.
We’ll show you what rapport building is all about, as well as the principles behind the term, starting with the basics.
What is rapport building?
Rapport building is the process of consciously building a relationship of mutual trust and affinity with someone — understanding each other’s ideas and feelings in an empathetic way.
But building rapport is much more than simply getting along with employees or treating customers well. It’s about connecting with the other person at an emotional level and getting on the same page.
Let’s compare rapport building with Bluetooth.
When you connect two devices via Bluetooth, you can update, change, and share information with each other. Both devices are in full synchronization.
The Bluetooth connection speeds up the flow of communication and information for both devices, making them more efficient and useful.
In the same way, building rapport with someone synchronizes you with their emotions, thoughts, and ideas to better collaborate and work together.
When people hear the term “rapport building,” they see it as something complex — a skill they must develop from scratch.
Even though rapport building requires some practice, it’s a very natural thing for humans. In fact, you practice it unconsciously pretty often with friends and family.
Why does rapport building matter?
The way people respond to you is a direct result of your communication level.
If you want a positive outcome from any relationship, you must build a bridge of trust between you and the other person.
This psychological “bridge” is often referred to as “rapport.”
The more affinity and trust you build with another person, the more rapport you have with them.
Now, rapport building is something crucial for humans.
Almost any transaction, whether it’s monetary, emotional, or physical, depends on the level of rapport you have with someone.
As the old saying states: “People only do business with people they know, like, and trust.”
But rapport building isn’t only important for business, but for anything in life.
Whether you want to build a more positive environment at the office, build stronger relationships with the people you care about, or get the most out of any relationship in general, rapport building is essential.
We’ll discuss the actual principles of rapport building a bit later, but first, let’s answer a major question.
What are the benefits of building rapport with someone?
In the words of Dale Carnegie, author of the classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People”:
“The only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it.”
Building rapport is the best way to understand what the other person wants and influence them to take action. By understanding what drives them, you’re better able to build rapport and motivate them.
For example, if you want to persuade someone to invest in your non-profit organization, you must first understand what they want and then build a bridge between their desires and the action you want them to take.
If they want, say, recognition in the industry, you could show them how investing in your organization can position them as an altruist investor and even help them land some media coverage.
That would be much more persuasive than simply talking about how much you want to help the world.
By getting in sync with the other person’s desires, goals, fears, and frustrations, you’re better able to persuade them into taking action.
Other benefits of rapport building may include:
- More meaningful relationships: Building rapport with people helps you build more harmonic and peaceful relationships.
- More sales: Rapport building is a key element to closing sales, as people who trust you are more likely to buy from you.
- More open doors: Building rapport with others opens the doors to more opportunities in work and life.
- Less conflict: By understanding others at a deep level, you’ll improve your communication and, thus, reduce conflict.
In short, rapport is one of the most crucial ingredients of any healthy relationship, business-related or not.
Even though you don’t need to like someone to build rapport, you do need to show appreciation and respect for their feelings and points of view.
The principles of rapport building
At this point, you already understand the basics of rapport building.
Now let’s step into the principles that make rapport building work.
Keep in mind that there aren’t specific “rules” or step-by-step instructions to build rapport. We only have principles you can use to better understand human behavior and increase your chances of success.
Let’s discuss some of these principles:
Empathy is donning the shoes of the other person — going beyond logic and reason and truly feeling what the other person is feeling.
And the keyword here is “emotions.”
Empathy is about connecting with the other person’s emotions to find a mutual understanding.
Remember that organizations are built by humans.
When you’re trying to close a deal, recruit talent, or find investors for your startup, you’re dealing with emotional beings.
That might sound a bit obvious, but you’d be surprised by the number of people who try to approach business relationships with pure logic and reason.
Humans have the ability to imagine what it’s like to face the other person’s challenges and problems and build an emotional image of that.
In other words, being empathetic helps the other person know that you understand them.
Now, the question is: How can you empathize? Is it something you can actually learn?
Some helpful ways to start empathizing include:
- Recall experiences: Think of similar experiences you’ve had in the past and try to remember how you felt.
- Ask the right questions: Ask open-ended questions that help the other person open up about their feelings.
- Read about other people’s stories: Reading stories of other people’s lives can improve your empathetic skills.
Now, keep in mind that empathy doesn’t depend on the accuracy in which you perceive the other person’s emotions but on how vividly you can imagine such emotions.
Humans are egocentric creatures.
That’s our nature.
We always want people to listen to us — to see how great we are.
But if you want to build rapport, you must make a conscious decision to mute your ego while talking to people and fully listen to what they’re saying.
Here’s where active listening comes in.
Active listening, also known as “empathetic listening,” is the discipline of genuinely trying to understand what the other person is saying. It’s respecting the other person by giving them our full undivided attention.
For example, if you’re in a sales conversation, don’t just try to pitch your products or services. Let the other person express their feelings. What do they need and want? More importantly, how does that connect with what you offer?
Instead of distracting yourself with your own thoughts, you should focus on the speakers and the message they’re trying to convey.
Some other “rules” of active listening include:
- Never interrupt the other person: Whenever you’re talking to someone, let the other person finish their ideas without interruption.
- Use “door openers”: Door openers let the other person know you’re interested in what they’re saying (e.g., “Interesting! Go on,” or “Tell me more”).
- Use the right body language: Use your hands, eyes, and body in general to show the other person that you’re actually listening.
- Write down important notes: If appropriate, take some notes during the conversation.
- Paraphrase often: Paraphrase the other person’s ideas to make sure you fully understand the conversation.
When you actively listen to others, you’ll notice conversations become much more meaningful, and people start to respect you and like you more.
The more shared experiences we have with someone, the more rapport we’ll build with that person.
Think about it:
You become friends with people you spend time with, which allows you to share some experiences.
Building rapport takes time.
To truly build a solid relationship of mutual trust and harmony, you must share certain experiences with that person.
Many people try to rush the process by implementing techniques like “mirroring” or “pacing” and feel disappointed when such superfluous methods don’t work.
The truth is that building rapport is about building relationships, and building relationships is a slow, sequential process.
Humans are gregarious beings.
We like to group in tribes and develop our identities based on such tribes.
Take countries, for example.
A huge part of a person’s identity is built up by the country they’re born in. If you’re a South African expat living in Spain and come across another South African person, you’ll probably feel pretty related.
The fact that person is South African like you are is enough to build a bond between you.
The same happens with sports teams, brands, music preferences, religion, politics, and many other things.
Being similar to someone in some way is often enough to build rapport with that person, even if you don’t know each other.
Now, be careful about faking similarities.
People are smart enough to notice when you’re lying just to get something from them.
Instead, try to build genuine relationships.
If you want to build rapport with a teammate, for example, buy that person a coffee and have a real conversation. You’ll find more genuine similarities that way.
Many people are afraid of conversational silence. They interpret it as something “bad.”
But when used right, silence can be a powerful persuasion tool.
For example, keeping silent while the other person is talking sends a signal of respect. It shows you’re listening.
But also keeping silent for a while after a person ends a statement gives the other person some space to add more information to their initial idea.
This is especially helpful during sales conversations where you need to evoke a sense of authority and expertise.
Some other benefits of using silence in communication include:
- Get better answers: Silence allows people to develop more complete and thorough answers to your questions.
- Ask better questions: Silence allows you to process what the other person is saying and come up with smarter questions.
- Give more powerful ideas: Keeping silent helps you “marinate” your ideas before speaking.
- Come up as someone that really pays attention: Silence presents you as a person who really knows how to listen.
Many people see rapport as something static — something you either have or don’t have.
In practice, rapport can fluctuate a lot.
We can say it has some kind of “scale” that’s constantly moving up and down, depending on your relationship with the other person.
For example, you can have a pretty solid relationship with a specific customer. But if one day you’re in a bad mood and give that customer a bad service, that relationship might end overnight.
In the same way, rapport building is a continuous process.
Whether you want to build rapport with a prospect or an employee, it’s a long-term process, and you must commit to it. Otherwise, you may end up losing valuable relationships.
Measuring the level of rapport you have with someone on an “imaginary scale” can help you notice whether that rapport is increasing or decreasing, and you can optimize your efforts accordingly.
Building rapport is about understanding the other person’s ideas and goals, but it is also about guiding that person towards achieving such goals.
This is especially helpful in business.
If the other person trusts you and knows you can help them achieve their goals, that person will be more likely to listen to you and, eventually, do business with you.
Some helpful ways to guide the other person include:
- Provide practical solutions: If you can help the other person solve a painful problem, that person will inevitably trust you.
- Ask the right questions: Sometimes, the right question can provide more guidance than poor answers.
Keep in mind that guidance without understanding is useless.
You must take the time to truly listen to the other person until you’re completely sure you understand their frustrations, fears, goals, and desires.
Until then, you can’t provide helpful guidance.
Finally, rapport building should come from the heart.
That might sound a bit cheesy, but you’d be surprised by the number of people who try to fake their behavior in hopes of building rapport with someone.
At the end of the day, though, people notice whether you’re real.
The best way to influence someone is to truly help them achieve what they want. And starting from an egocentric standpoint is never a good idea.
When you try to understand people in a profound and genuine way, you reap the rewards.
What are some popular rapport building techniques?
Now that you understand the principles of rapport building, we can talk about techniques.
To be honest, the most effective way to build rapport with people is through empathy and trying to understand them with honesty and integrity.
That said, there are a few techniques you can use to speed up the process.
Now, these techniques won’t work by themselves.
As we mentioned earlier, if you try to build rapport with these techniques alone, you’ll end up pretty disappointed.
When you combine them with the principles outlined earlier, though, they can be a good supportive element for your rapport building efforts.
Here are three rapport building techniques that really work:
Mirroring is a rapport building technique that consists of synchronizing your behavior with the other person’s — mimicking their gestures and mannerisms to build trust and evoke a sense of similarity.
For example, if you’re presenting your business idea to a potential investor and you see that person is sitting in a particular way, you could imitate that posture.
Most humans perform mirroring unconsciously with friends and family members, and it can be a pretty useful method for building rapport with strangers.
Just be careful not to overdo it.
If people notice what you’re doing, you’ll get the opposite effect.
Pacing is pretty similar to mirroring, but instead of mimicking gestures and mannerisms, you mimic the tone of voice, volume of voice, and breathing rhythm of the other person.
This technique helps people feel safer around you and listen to your ideas with an open mind.
For example, if you’re in a sales call and notice the prospect is a slow talker, you could slow down the pace of your conversation so that they feel more comfortable, and vice versa.
Finally, backtracking is a rapport building technique that aims to speed up the trust process by repeating specific words and phrases the other person has said during the conversation.
By repeating certain words and feelings the other person has mentioned before, they’ll feel as though you can understand them.
In short, backtracking consists of repeating:
- Facts: Confirming and agreeing with facts the other person has talked about.
- Feelings: Stating that you feel the same way as the other person feels.
- Ideas: Summarizing the other person’s ideas to make sure you’re understanding correctly.
For example, if you receive a call from an upset customer, you could “backtrack” their ideas to make sure you’re truly understanding the problem and make the customer feel that you care.
It all comes down to empathy
At the end of the day, businesses and organizations are made up of people. If you want to succeed, you must understand the emotional aspect of business relationships and develop empathy.
Start by asking yourself:
- What does this person really want?
- Is there anything I can do to help this person achieve what they want?
- How can I communicate that in a simple and concise way?
Whether it’s an employee, a prospect, a client, an investor, or a teammate, the answer to these questions will help you better understand the other person and, thus, build rapport more effectively.
Hopefully, the principles and guidelines we showed you today help you start your rapport building journey on the right foot.
Check out Pareto Labs to learn more skills like rapport building that can benefit you at work.