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Emotional Intelligence

Building Rapport with Others

October 25, 2013 by Dr. Jon Warner in Emotional Intelligence

Building Rapport with Others

Building rapport is the process of establishing a harmonious relationship with someone so that the relationship feels as close as possible to being a friend. Good rapport can therefore be helpful in a range of life circumstances including work, home or play situations. But once learned, this is a powerful skill that must be used with care and integrity as it can be misused to manipulate someone. We must take care to use it only where our intention is to help them get something they will thank us for later.

In simple summary terms, rapport is best built progressively using the following broad behaviors:

  1. Think of other people as being worthwhile and value their diversity.
  2. Notice body language, breathing, personality style, tone, language etc.
  3. Treat the other person with respect and integrity.
  4. Practice Active Listening at all times.
  5. Ask questions gently and sensitively to show that you care about the other person.
  6. Avoid matching negative emotions – you will both feel bad.

The Keys Steps to Building Rapport With Others

Although the above overall behaviors will take you a long way, there are some more specific steps that also need to be appreciated and taken. Let’s look at these one by one. 

Key 1: Understand Rapport and Why We Build It

At the most fundamental level, rapport is being in a state of harmony with someone else. That means we feel like we are thinking in broadly the same way as another person, that we understand, trust and even care for one and other, or that we are “good colleagues”, even if we have just met. Establishing good rapport influences someone to listen to us, buy from us, follow our lead but we need to want to create rapport. In other words, if your base attitude to people is suspicious, cynical or negative, your ability to create rapport will be very limited. 

Key 2: Understand Influence v Manipulation

We are influencing someone positively if our intention is to do something primarily for them and in their best interests (in other words, if we have a broadly altruistic attitude towards the other person). We are manipulating someone if we want them to do something that will primarily benefit us at their expense (in other words, if we have a broadly uncharitable attitude towards the other person). It is critical that building strong rapport is only attempted when we wish to influence others positively. 

Key 3: Build Rapport in Simple Ways

The techniques for Building Rapport are very simple (even though they may take a little practice to get right). They will certainly require us to be much more observant of what people do, say and how they say things and then responding in warm, friendly and empathetic ways yourself. This is easy to learn in theory but will only start to improve when real rapport building actions take place. 

Key 4: Listen Carefully

The simplest key to Building Rapport is careful listening. Not just hearing but really listening. Putting all our attention on what the other person has to say, clearing our mind of judgment or solutions and just listening. We can gently ask brief questions to clarify what they are saying or to ask the other person to tell us more, but in general we should just keep quiet and listen. We can nod, make affirming noises, and we should definitely keep a soft eye contact and we should really hear what the other person has to say. When we do this they will feel we care. 

Key 5: Ask Questions

If we ask questions to clarify what the other person is saying, or that encourage them to tell us more, or ask questions that show we are genuinely interested and lead us to discover their needs (such as summarizing or paraphrasing and asking whether or not this is accurate), then the other person will feel that we are genuinely interested in him or her and what he or she has to say. 

Key 6: Match What They Say And How They Say It

Matching is sensitive doing things the way the other person does it. We are not going to mimic them, just take the fundamentals of what they do and copy them. The person we want to build rapport with will talk in a certain tone, volume and quality to it. We simply use a tone of our own that is closest to theirs (calm or energetic for example). People will tend to use language such as “ I see what you mean…” “I hear what you say …” “This feels good to me…” . This is where you can then match their seeing, hearing or feeling language and use similar words. 

Key 7: Match Body Language

Matching Body Language is probably the easiest to do. Although it should always be done sensitively and as unobtrusively as possible, lean forward if they are, lean back if they are, cross legs if they are, fold arms if they are. We can even match another person’s breathing. Simply start to breath in and out in unison with the individual. We should not copy or emulate too much body language of course-one or perhaps two key elements is usually enough in each conversation we have. 

Key 8: Build Trust For Long Term Rapport

Building trust takes time. We can start by being congruent. That means that our words, tone and body language are all saying the same thing. We should also be highly sensitive to other people’s opinions and even general world view, with as little judgment about it as possible if we want to build rapport.  If we respect our differences we build rapport. If we tell someone their view of the world is wrong or crazy, we break rapport.

Checklist for Building Rapport


  • Are you Listening Actively?
  • Are you listening and asking open questions to encourage the other person to say more?
  • Are you listening so as to understand the other person’s needs?
  • Are you listening at least twice as much as you speak?
  • Are you listening and showing real interest?
  • Are you listening and asking clarifying questions to check you understand what the other person is saying? 


  • Are you matching the other person’s tone?
  • Are you matching his/her breathing?
  • Are you matching the language they use?
    • visual words like “I see the picture”
    • auditory words such as “I hear what you say”
    • kinesthetic words like “I feel that I’ve grasped it”
  • Are you matching the other person’s Body Language?
  • Are you matching his or her general personality? For example:
    • keeping to the big picture or providing plenty of detail
    • being suitably task or people focused
    • Being quiet/reserved or more energetic 

Building Trust:

  • Are you making and keeping agreements and promises made?
  • Are you being congruent? Do your words, tone and body language all give the same message?
  • Are you being appropriately confident?
  • Are you taking personal responsibility – avoiding blame, excuses, justifying and denial?
  • Are you using command or statement tonality unless asking a question?
  • Are you handling broken agreements at the first opportunity?
  • Are you respecting the other person’s viewpoint (even if it is very different to your own) and valuing the other person’s mental model of the world?
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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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