Building rapport involves finding common ground, establishing good communication, and building mutual respect.
There are many ways one can do this that we’ll take a closer look at in a moment!
What is Rapport?
Rapport is when two or more people share mutual attentiveness, positivity, and coordination, according to research. Friendliness and trust between these individuals often mark rapport.
When two people have a good rapport, one could say that they’re “in sync.” Rapport is a two-way road, but as an individual, you can contribute to the relationship in ways that help nurture the rapport.
How Can Building Rapport Help You?
Rapport helps you feel more connected with someone and can help them feel more comfortable with you. In professional settings, building rapport can help you build your network—since meaningful relationships and personal connections are at the heart of networking. It can also help you have success with clients, as they will have positive feelings and a sense of connectedness with you.
Some professionals, like doctors, therapists, and sales associates, need to build rapport quickly to help their clients feel well cared for.
Regardless of your profession, rapport can help you accomplish the following things:
- Network with others in your field, potentially leading to new job opportunities.
- Build trust with customers that can help you have more effective outcomes.
- Increase sales and build a more extensive base of clients.
- Help your team become more productive and work together more effectively.
- Build a positive reputation in your industry.
8 Ways to Build Rapport With Clients
When you’re building rapport with someone, you give them a reason to trust your capability. Here are some tangible ways to do that!
Connect over something you have in common
Try to find something you have in common with the person you’re speaking with. This can help build a connection and sense of camaraderie.
It can be hard to guess what you might have in common right off the bat. Notice what the person is wearing—for example, if they’re wearing a band tee, you might be able to connect over a shared appreciation of music.
If not, here are some small-talk questions you can use to try to find shared points of interest:
- Did you hear about the [noteworthy news event]? Steer clear of polarizing topics like politics, but human interest stories like the Met Gala or local events like the building of a new park are great options.
- What music are you listening to these days?
- Do you have any fun plans for the weekend?
- Are you from this area?
- Have you heard about the restaurant that opened up down the street?
These are all pretty light talking points but can help form a sense of connectedness that can lead to rapport. Check out more conversation starters to help you continue to build rapport.
If you’re helping a client with a problem they’re facing, you may want to keep these conversations short so that they feel like your main focus is on assisting them in solving their problem.
Have you ever walked into the Apple store? The Geniuses are usually incredibly friendly, which helps one feel comfortable around them—despite how stressful electronics can be.
They may small talk, but typically only while you’re waiting for something else, like a device to turn on or a different Genius to be available for a consultation. This helps you feel that your time is being respected but takes care of any potential awkward silence that could make you uncomfortable.
Share the game plan
When you’re working with a client, let them in on what the “next steps” will look like so they know what they can expect throughout the process. This helps strengthen their trust in your capability and demystifies the process for them.
Amongst other professions, doctors tend to be good at this. Let’s imagine you’ve got an appointment with your doctor to get some blood work done. Think about how this appointment might go.
Your doctor walks into the room, asks you how you’re doing, explains what they’re about to do in detail, tells you how long it will take to get the results, and asks if you have any questions. They then answer all of your questions and ask if you’re ready to start the exam.
The doctor takes the time to make sure you feel comfortable, know what’s about to happen, and have the chance to ask about any concerns you have.
They demystify the process.
Regardless of your field of expertise, your client is likely less experienced than you are. Walk them through the steps and help them feel like they know what to expect from the process. Like the doctor in the example, end the conversation by seeing if they have any questions you can help clear up for them.
Here are some phrases you can use to invite questions from your client:
- “Before we end this meeting, do you have any questions for me?”
- “I want to make sure you feel comfortable. Is there anything I can explain about the process that would help you feel better?”
- “I can move on to the next step, but before we do, is there anything from what we’ve just been talking about that you’d like me to explain more?”
- “I know we’re about to wrap up our meeting, but please don’t hesitate to reach out to me via email or phone if you have any questions before our next meeting!”
This way, the person you’re speaking with will know that they’re allowed to ask for clarity on anything they may not already understand.
Use the same adjectives
When you’re working to build rapport with someone, pay attention to their favorite adjectives.
Which of the following positive adjectives do they use most often:
- …you could even copy their preferred emoji. Do they use a : ) or a = )? Use theirs.
Now, mirror those back to them!
If you’re at the end of a presentation or saying goodbye to someone you’ve just met, throw in the positive adjective you’ve heard them use to leave a final strong impression.
For example, when you’re saying goodbye to someone, you could say, “Talking with you has been fantastic. I hope you enjoy the rest of your day.” Or at the end of a presentation, “I’m grateful to be able to share my research with you, and I hope learning more about this topic has been exciting.”
Pro Tip: Be careful not to go overboard, as being too obvious can break rapport.
Give a genuine compliment
Genuine compliments can be saying something nice about the surroundings, “The weather is great today, isn’t it?” Or about the person, “I like your necklace!”
Even though giving a compliment can be a way to build rapport, try only to give compliments you mean. If you say something purely to gain someone’s approval, they may feel like you’re being disingenuous.
When giving compliments, you’ll know that they’re genuine because they are sporadic and innocent. Essentially, an honest compliment happens when you notice something about someone and have to tell them, but you don’t expect to get anything in return for it.
- I love your hairdo!
- Your sweater is so bright and colorful. I like it.
- I like how you phrased that. You’re good with words.
When giving a compliment, make eye contact, and use a downward inflection of the voice. This will make it feel more honest than if you look off into the distance and make it sound like a question.
Research shows that receiving a compliment boosts the dopamine in one’s brain. Dopamine is a feel-good hormone, so people often feel confident and happy after receiving praise.
Practice your first impression
The first handful of seconds when meeting someone new matter—a lot. Since rapport has to do with likability, competence, and building a connection with someone, practice making a good first impression.
The first thing people see when they meet you is how you look. Researchers have found that posture and clothing play a significant role in how people perceive you—which means it’s more about how you carry yourself than how you look.
If you’re going to a networking event or having the first meeting with a client, check yourself out in the mirror before walking into the room. Make sure there isn’t any food stuck between your teeth, and straighten your hair if it’s looking windblown.
Pro tip: If you’re out and about and don’t have a mirror on hand, use your phone. Please turn on the selfie camera and use it to check your hair and smile.
Another aspect of your first impression is how you introduce yourself. Before meeting with a client or going to a networking event, find a mirror and practice introducing yourself.
You might feel a little silly doing this, but it can be beneficial to see what you look like. Pay attention to any nervous ticks you might not be aware of. Do you look at the floor or slouch your shoulders? These can both communicate a lack of confidence to an onlooker.
Practice making eye contact, giving a warm smile, and reaching out your hand for a handshake while saying, “Hi, my name is ___.”
In this video, you can see former President Obama shaking hands with several Joint Chiefs of Staff. Even though you can’t hear what he is saying, you can see that he is making eye contact with each individual, shaking their hand for a few seconds, and leaning towards them to hear him over the crowd of onlookers.
He looks calm and collected. The way he readjusts his shoulders, so he is squarely facing each individual communicates that he fully pays attention to whoever he is speaking with.
A first impression only takes a handful of seconds, but it can impact how the person you’re speaking with perceives you.
Be an active listener
When you’re helping someone, there’s a pretty good chance they have a pain point. They may be a frustrated customer struggling with an electronic device or a new marketing client super excited about getting started and finding new leads that they can’t reach on their own.
Engage with what they’re telling you by being an active listener. Body language and reflective speaking portray active listening.
Here are some ways you can use your body language to show someone you’re engaging with them:
- Hold eye contact
- Nod your head
- Adjust your body to face them
- Move obstacles (like a laptop) to the side
- Avoid distractions like pulling out your phone during your conversation
In addition to using your body language to demonstrate active listening skills, you can reflect on what they’ve said to assure them that you’re hearing them. This is a perfect tactic for people who need to build rapport via a phone call where the other person can’t see you.
Use phrases like, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but am I understanding correctly that you’re having an issue with XYZ?” Or, “I’m going to repeat back to you what I’m hearing. Please correct me if I’ve missed anything.”
This affirms that you’re a good listener and working with them to help solve their problems.
Through active listening, you can also show empathy by saying things like, “I could imagine that XYZ happening was quite stressful, I’m sorry about that, let’s find a solution,” or, “It sounds like a storm of events, I’m sure that’s been quite overwhelming. Let’s work on fixing it together.”
Crack a joke
Humor can be a little tricky. You don’t want to make a joke that could hurt your client’s feelings. If you’re unsure how something you might say will land, don’t say it. But if you feel confident that the joke is either neutral or at your own expense (without hurting your credibility), go ahead and be funny!
Research shows that laughter decreases anxiety, so it can help your client feel more comfortable.
Here are a few ways you can be funny and help break the tension without worrying about hurting someone’s feelings:
- Give the wrong answer. When someone asks you if they can pick up a product to take a closer look at it, respond with, “No,” followed by a smile as you hand it to them. The “no” is so unexpected that it can help break the tension, and you can share a laugh.
- If you make a mistake, correct yourself and laugh. For example, “Oops, I just wrote today’s date as June 2020; that was years ago! I have all turned around today.”
- Share something funny that happened in your life. Did you trip and fall at the grocery store? Did you forget to throw out a milk carton before going on vacation and return to a stinky fridge? Did your friend startle you when they dropped by your apartment with their puppy? These types of silly stories can make for great space-fillers while you’re chatting with a client.
In this interview clip from the Jimmy Fallon show, Jennifer Lawrence shares an embarrassing story about her during a party where she mistook a guest for the late Elizabeth Taylor.
The story could have gone, “I thought I was talking with Elizabeth Taylor, but I was mistaken and awkward about it.”
Instead, she goes into all the night details, paints a picture, and brings the listeners along with her making it a funny retelling of an unfortunate faux pas. By doing this, she can make her audience laugh along with her at the situation.
Encourage their input
When speaking with someone, try responding positively to what they say or suggestions they make. If you’re building rapport with a client, you know more about the topic than they do. (It’s your field of expertise, after all!)
You don’t want to be fake or give them poor advice because you’re too scared, to be honest, but practice encouraging them by acknowledging the suggestions they make positively.
When they make a recommendation, give them a compliment like, “That’s a perfect point. Let’s incorporate that into our strategy.” Or, “I like these colors you’ve chosen for your branding. They look great.”
If you do need to redirect them, find something positive about their idea or a reason for why they wouldn’t know the “correct” answer before sharing your perspective. Try saying something like, “That’s such a fun idea! Unfortunately, because of how this software works, we won’t be able to do that. But would you be open to trying XYZ? I think it will accomplish some of the same end goals.”
Remember, if your client is excited about an idea, be excited with them—don’t leave them hanging on that high-five!
Building rapport is a two-way street, including mutual positivity and coordination. People will often match others’ energy, so if you have a helpful and positive demeanor, you will likely be able to strengthen the rapport you have with clients.
During your meeting, remember to do the following things to strengthen your rapport.
- Practice your first impression. Having a solid first impression can get you started on a positive note with new clients, during networking events, or when meeting your significant other’s family! Use color theory to dress to impress, and practice shaking hands, making eye contact, and speaking confidently.
- Find common ground. Do you both love Italian food? Have you both been reading historical novels recently? Find something you both enjoy and build a genuine connection.
- Let them know what to expect. If you’re working with a client, let them know the game plan. It can be intimidating and disorienting to be in a new environment, and your client may feel overwhelmed. Help them feel comfortable by letting them know they can ask you questions at any point.
- Use the same adjectives. During a conversation with someone, mirror their adjectives back to them. This can help them feel more positive about what you’re saying.
- Say something nice. When you first meet someone, try to notice something you like about their demeanor or outfit. Then compliment them! Remember, praise them when you mean it, not when you’re trying to get something from them.
- Listen well. If you’re working with someone, use posturing and speech reflection to help the person you’re talking with feel confident that you’re listening to them.
- Crack a joke. So long as your humor doesn’t hurt someone’s feelings, making a joke can be an excellent way to break the tension and help people loosen up!
- Be encouraging. When the person you’re meeting with gives input, say something positive about their idea before redirecting them (if you need to).
If you’re looking for more ways to build meaningful relationships with people, learn how to grow with these 10 interpersonal intelligence skills.