Everyone wants a good relationship with the people they work with. But building a healthy level of camaraderie, rapport, and comfortable conversations takes effort.
Sometimes, it seems like people are just born with this skill. And it’s true that some people are naturally good at building rapport. But even if you struggle with small talk and aren’t skilled at building relationships, you can still develop rapport. Like any soft skill, it’s one you can learn to master. Here’s how to get started.
Rapport is the foundation of a meaningful relationship between two people. When you’re good at building rapport, you’re practiced at establishing a connection between yourself and someone else. Good rapport can make the other person feel respected, heard, and seen. It’s a great way to understand another person’s needs and support them.
Building rapport is about driving a meaningful connection between you and another person. It isn’t enough to feign interest—instead, practice openness and honesty in order to establish mutual trust.
Build mutual trust
Make team members feel more engaged
Improve constructive feedback sessions
Boost team loyalty
Build good group dynamics
Feel more “in sync” with the other person
Building rapport helps you quickly establish great relationships, regardless of your position at your company. Rapport is the foundation of great workplace relationships because it facilitates collaboration, unlocks mutual trust, and enhances your communication skills.
While rapport building is a good skill for any team member, it’s particularly important for customer-facing roles and team members in leadership positions.
As a salesperson, it’s critical to build rapport with your customers. In order to effectively sell to customers, you must understand their needs and wants. When you build rapport as a salesperson, you’re focusing on genuinely understanding the customer’s needs so you can effectively support them. Keep in mind that building rapport with customers is about developing a long-term relationship, so avoid using this technique as a quick way to land a deal.
Once a customer becomes a client, it is still important to continue building rapport so you understand their needs—especially as those needs change. Rapport helps you understand how your customers are using your products and services.
For example, imagine a customer you’ve been working with for a while tells you they’re going to cancel your service. If you have rapport built up with them, you can work to understand where this churn risk is coming from and what you can do to support them. That could mean reducing the number of seats they’ve purchased or helping them downgrade to a lower tier of service, instead of churning completely.
To be the best manager possible, you also need to build rapport with your direct reports. That way, you can understand their goals in order to best support them—not just in the day to day, but also as their career progresses.
You should also take time to build rapport with your coworkers and team members. Closeness with team members prevents burnout and impostor syndrome. It makes the workplace more enjoyable for you—and for them.
Attempting to build rapport can feel intimidating, especially if you aren’t someone who loves small talk. But part of building rapport is playing to your strengths and using your personality to forge a true connection.
The first thing to do, before you even begin a conversation, is to focus on yourself. Building rapport isn’t about faking it. You don’t have to be the most outgoing or extroverted person in order to build this skill. Anyone can build rapport, regardless of your communication skills.
By identifying your strengths and weaknesses, you can effectively use them during future conversations. For example, say you don’t think you’re very good at small talk. That’s okay! Instead of engaging in small talk, try to engage new acquaintances with deeper conversations. Ask them about their pets, or their work history. These are still simple questions, but they go beyond the surface and help you begin to understand your team members on a deeper level.
Alternatively, if you’re introverted, you might get tired at networking events or crowded situations. That’s fine, too. Prioritize 1:1s, coffee conversations, or even short watercooler chats with an individual. Lean into your strengths instead of forcing yourself to attend networking event after networking event.
Listening plays a key role in building rapport. Active listening, or listening to understand, is the practice of focusing on what the other person is saying—instead of thinking about what you're going to say next.
Active listening is a great way to build meaningful connections and invest in deeper conversations. When you’re paying full attention to the other person, instead of thinking about your own thoughts, you’re more invested in what they have to say. Not only does that help you understand them on a deeper level, but your listening skills also make them feel more comfortable and heard when they’re around you.Read: Listening to understand: How to practice active listening (with examples)
Almost equally important to how you listen is how you look while you’re listening. Even if you’re paying attention, distracted or disinterested nonverbal communication can unintentionally put people off. During a conversation, check in with your facial expressions and body language. Are your arms crossed? Are you making eye contact? These small things make a big difference.
In particular, make sure to:
Make encouraging sounds and gestures
Make eye contact
One of the easiest ways to build rapport is to look for similarities between you and someone else. Do you have any shared interests? A similar past? Oftentimes, it’s much easier to forge a connection with someone when you have something in common. You can use that common ground as a jumping off point to a deeper conversation.
You can often do this by paying attention to the other person. For example, you might notice a coworker wearing a sweatshirt from their college or displaying a picture of their kids on their desk. Maybe you heard they have a similar work history to you, or you both love cats. Try to find something you have in common with that person to serve as the foundation of your deeper connection.
Even if you don’t have a lot in common with the other person, use empathy and curiosity to build rapport. Part of this is focusing on the other person’s needs, and how you can help them.
For example, is the other person new to the office? Maybe they need a friend. Did they have a bad day at work? Ask them if they want to grab coffee and chat, if you think that would help. Remember, building rapport is about making a connection with another person, and you can do this effectively by tapping into your emotional intelligence.Read: 19 unconscious biases to overcome and help promote inclusivity
If you can’t find anything in common, use open ended questions to allow the other person to share their passions. Open-ended questions prompt the other person to share more about their past. You can use open-ended questions for any topic. For example, instead of asking “How long have you been working in marketing?”, which has a one sentence answer, try “How did you get started with marketing?” You’re asking about the same thing, but prompting the person to share more about their past.
For more open-ended question ideas, read our article on 110+ icebreaker questions for team building.
Good rapport improves your working relationships and makes you a better communicator. But like most soft skills, building rapport is an ongoing process. Think of this less like a skill to check off a list and more like a set of mannerisms and practices you can build over time.
For more tips on how to become a better communicator, check out our collaboration resources.