The word rapport comes from the same root word as rapporter in French – to bring back. When I run workshops on rapport to mixed nationality groups I usually point out that the English must be so bad at it that we have to use a French word!
In English, rapport implies harmony, a feeling of shared understanding and of being at one. It is thought to be the one of most important aspects in any human interaction. Without rapport, two people are unlikely to fully trust each other. Without rapport they probably won’t even hear each other correctly.
We have all created rapport many times – when we’re with an old friend, or when we meet someone and it feels like we’ve known them all our lives. But we may not be aware of what’s happening in these circumstances.
Here are some insights into rapport and how to build it:
- The first thing to point out is that rapport is a process, not a thing. Rapport is something we do with another person. Here are some of the things we can do to establish rapport:
- Listen really well to what they’re saying – not just to the words, but the meaning underneath
- Show we understand – not by interrupting and telling equivalent stories but by empathising
- Listen with our eyes as well as our ears – their facial expressions, sighs, eye movements are all leaking what’s going on for them as they’re speaking. We were given two eyes, two ears and only one mouth and should use them in that proportion!
I often use the analogy of an iceberg to understand rapport. What somebody says and their actions are above the waterline. What they mean and the person’s values and beliefs are unseen, below the waterline. We need to look out for important aspects not being communicated to build rapport.
- It helps if you have some things in common, such as coming from the same part of the world or supporting the same football team. It can help to get you off to a good start, but it isn’t essential to successful long term rapport building.
- Rapport isn’t about asking them about their weekend for five minutes before you start the meeting. Again, this can help, but it’s more important to listen and relate during the meeting than having a pre-chat.
- Rapport is about respect – you don’t have to ‘like’ the other person. It’s about making an effort to see the situation from their perspective. It’s about walking in their shoes.
The Native American saying comes to mind: ‘Never judge a man until you have walked at least two moons in his moccasins’. After that time, if you decide you really don’t like him, you’re far enough away and he’s unlikely to get his moccasins back!