How to build rapport: 6 tactics to build strong relationships

April 26, 2022 - 18 min read

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What is rapport?

6 tactics on how to build rapport

3 reasons why rapport is important

9 example phrases to help build rapport

4 ways to encourage your employees to build rapport 

When it comes to building strong relationships, rapport matters. 

Have you ever walked away from a conversation and felt instantly connected to the other person? Maybe it felt natural and easy. You might have felt you really hit it off or clicked with this person. It’s likely that’s because you were able to build rapport quickly. 

But building rapport isn’t always instantaneous. Like any other relationship, building rapport in a professional setting can take extra work and intention. 

Depending on the nature of your role, you might lean on rapport and relationships quite heavily. In this article, we’ll talk about what it means to have a rapport with another person. We’ll also walk through a step-by-step guide on how to build rapport. 

What is rapport? 

First, let’s understand how rapport is defined. Rapport is defined as a friendly, harmonious relationship. There’s mutual agreement, understanding, and empathy that makes the communication flow well. 

Once you have built good rapport, there is an implicit assumption of positive intent between both people that makes your interactions easier.

According to researchers Linda Tickle-Degnen and Robert Rosenthal, rapport requires necessary components to be present in a relationship. 

  • Mutual attentiveness 
  • Positivity 
  • Coordination 

These three elements are what make the dynamic structure of rapport — and they are all intriguing because they’re nonverbal. 

6 tactics on how to build rapport 

When it comes to building rapport, there are steps you can take to strengthen your relationships. 

1. Make a good introduction 

Making a good first impression starts with the small things. For example, this could be a firm handshake and a smile. It could be maintaining solid eye contact and remembering the person’s name. 

Your first impression will set the tone for the rest of the conversation. Eventually, the respect and communication you build with the other person. Be aware of how you’re showing up in this first impression moment. 

2. Actively listen 

Have you ever been in a conversation where you’re constantly interrupted? Or, perhaps someone continues to talk over another person in conversation? It’s not a pleasant experience. And if you’re meeting someone for the first time, it can leave a bad taste in your mouth. 

Make sure you’re putting on your listening ears. Be an active listener and pay close attention to the conversation. To be able to engage in the conversation meaningfully, you’ll need to adopt good listening skills

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3. Ask engaging questions 

We’ve all been in those one-sided conversations. When conversations are lopsided, it makes for bad connections. That’s why asking engaging and thoughtful questions is so important. 

To do this, think about the core of what you’d like to know about this person. What are you hoping to learn? What sort of questions will allow you to set a strong foundation for a relationship? What are your goals? Are you showing your interest in the other person as a whole person? 

Once you’ve identified what you’d like to get out of the conversation, you can form the appropriate questions to match. Make sure you’re actively engaged, talk less and listen more to their answers rather than planning out your next question. 

4. Be aware of your body language 

Your nonverbal communication is just as important as your verbal communication. Your nonverbal cues are central to building rapport. This includes things like posture, eye contact, facial expressions, and being aware of distractions. 

If someone is constantly checking their phone or looking away during a conversation, it can send a message that they’re not interested. Or if someone isn’t making consistent eye contact, it can feel like they aren’t being genuine or attentively listening. 

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5. Find common ground

I was at a wedding this past weekend. I was meeting a lot of people for the first time, many of whom were from other parts of the country and the world. 

At first, I wasn’t sure what I’d have in common with some of the other wedding guests. But I asked questions and engaged in deeper conversations, I found more commonalities than I originally anticipated. 

For example, I met a woman from France. She was a friend of the bride, and I was a friend of the groom. She had met the couple while living in Austin, Texas but she’s soon moving back to Europe with her husband. When I told her where I was from, we found out that her husband is also from my small hometown in Ohio. We also discovered we both enjoy yoga and she’s recently taken up a meditation practice

Moral of the story: don’t judge a book by its cover. It can be easy to assume you don’t have anything in common with someone based on first or second sentence introductions. But as you get to know the person better, you’ll find some sort of shared experience, characteristic, or perspective. 

6. Lead with empathy and respect 

A strong, healthy relationship is built on empathy and respect. Empathy and respect are key components to building trust. This last and final step is more of a foundational element to string through in all of your interpersonal interactions. 

Lead with empathy and a sincere desire to understand and get to know the other person. Beyond empathy, lead with respect. Treat the other person as you would like to be treated. By doing so, you’ll be better positioned to build rapport more effectively. 

3 reasons why rapport is important 

Rapport is important for a few reasons. Let’s walk through three key reasons why you should invest in building rapport with others. 

It establishes trust 

Trust is a critical element of any long-lasting relationship. Without trust, it’s hard to maintain a meaningful and lasting relationship. 

This is true for personal relationships but also for professional relationships. For example, if you’re looking to get promoted into a new management role, your boss needs to trust you. They need to trust that you’re going to do your job well. They need to understand your commitment to developing strong leadership characteristics

Likewise for personal relationships, too. If you’re building a new friendship, you want to be able to trust your friend. In order to be vulnerable with a friend, you need to have established trust

It can help improve your business performance 

Depending on your career, your livelihood could depend on building rapport. And rapport can help you improve your performance at work. Let’s take folks who work in sales as an example. 

Consider Greta: As a salesperson for a tech company, her salary structure is heavily weighted on how much business she brings into the organization. Her compensation is commission-based, which means she has to perform well to support her lifestyle. 

But Greta is new to sales. Maybe she recently pivoted from a field that wasn’t so people- or social- heavy. She has been trying hard to sell but hasn’t spent much time building rapport with potential clients. As a result, her book of business has suffered. 

Data shows that salespeople who spend more time building rapport perform better. Building rapport can be the difference-maker for performing well in your career. 

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It strengthens your social connections 

Science tells us that social interactions are a critical part of overall health, happiness, and longevity. But strong social connections simply aren’t possible without some element of rapport. 

If you don’t invest in your social health, your physical health can actually suffer. In fact, data tells us that folk with low social connections experience more chronic diseases, like cardiovascular diseases, immune disorders, and high blood pressure.

It can also lead to increased mental health problems, like anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Low social and emotional health also increases risk factors for health problems. Loneliness can make you more likely to suffer from stress, inflammation, and even high blood sugar. 

9 example phrases to help build rapport  

So, you’re ready to start investing in your relationships. But you might not know where to start. We’ve compiled nine example phrases to help build rapport. 

  • What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? 
  • What’s something you’re really proud of? 
  • What’s something that most people don’t know about you? 
  • If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why? 
  • What’s one book you always come back to or re-read? 
  • How’s your day going? 
  • What’s something new you’ve learned recently? 
  • What’s one problem in your work that you wish you could solve tomorrow? 
  • What are you looking for in _______? 

Now, let’s put that into context with some examples. 

Maria is a mentor to Bridget. Bridget has worked at her company for a couple of years but she hasn’t been promoted and she hasn’t explored a new role. She’s antsy to find something that challenges her but she’s not sure what direction to take her career. In a coffee chat with Maria, she asks her, “What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?” 

Or let’s take Bob. Bob recently connected with Florence. He’s learned that Florence has recently moved to a new city. Florence also decided to pivot her career entirely to a new field. And while Florence is still establishing connections with people, Bob can tell Florence is eager to learn. In a conversation about what they’ve read recently, Bob asks, “What’s one book you would read over and over again?” 

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Finally, let’s look at James. James is a new leader on your team. He’s recently been hired from another organization, so you’re getting a new boss. James is doing one-on-one meetings with each of his direct reports, including you. You want to make a good impression on James.

But you also want to learn more about him, his leadership style, and his expectations for you. While talking about his goals for the team, you ask him, “What’s one problem in our work that you wish you could solve tomorrow?” 

4 ways to encourage your employees to build rapport 

If you’re a leader at your organization, you may be looking for ways to encourage your employees to build rapport. After all, rapport is a critical component of overall business success.

But it also plays a big role in the employee experience. The relationships between colleagues and managers have a big impact on things like retention, employee satisfaction, and employee engagement

Here are four ways to encourage your employees to build rapport with one another: 

    • Facilitate coffee chats or informal meet-and-greets between employees. At BetterUp, we’re big fans of coffee chats. They’re quick, simple, and easy conversations that can happen between any two employees. And oftentimes, they’re not always work-related. Encourage your employees to get to know each other on a personal and professional level. 
    • Invest in the employee experience. Does your organization host virtual or in-person events that allow for social connection? Does your company invest in things like clubs, volunteer activities, or team-building events? How are you creating company-hosted activities to help create rapport-building starters? 
    • Encourage professional development around social connections. Create avenues for professional learning that focus on ways to build rapport. I’ve worked at organizations that host workshops focused on building relationships. 
    • Provide access to coaching. Personalized coaching can help support your employees’ communication skills. And building effective communication skills goes hand-in-hand with building rapport.

      With virtual coaching, empower your employees to take charge of their development. With BetterUp, your employees can focus on skill sets like rapport and communication to help create more meaningful relationships. 

Start building rapport today 

Good rapport often starts with small talk. But soon, you break the ice. And it develops into a meaningful conversation chock-full of open-ended questions that engage and build great relationships. 

At the heart of building rapport is great interpersonal skills. Folks need to have a keen sense of their emotional intelligence. They need to ask great follow-up questions and listen attentively. And they need to be intentional about building mutual trust. 

Whether you’re looking to influence people or invest in your working relationships, BetterUp can help. Your coach will get to know you on a personal level. Your coach will also help you develop the interpersonal skills you need to invest in building rapport.

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Published April 26, 2022

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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