How to Build Greater Rapport with Clients

It is believed that there are 5 levels of communication between clients and their advisors (see below). To move to deeper levels of communication you need the skills of building rapport. The more rapport you have the easier it is to be seen as a trusted advisor.

Here are the five levels (diagram courtesy of Flickr):

Level 1: Cliché communication:

This is how a conversation might start with someone you don’t know during the coffee break at a conference. We first establish verbal contact with others by saying something that lets the other person know we acknowledge his or her presence. Standard greetings such as ‘hello – I don’t think we’ve met…’ or ‘hello – I’m Tony…’ signal the desire to initiate a relationship, even if it is a brief, superficial one.

Level 2: Facts and biographical information

During this initial exchange, you might find that the contact might start to reveal safe information about themselves, such as details about their role, where they live, and what work they do.

Level 3: Attitudes and personal thoughts:

After communicating basic information (and probably at subsequent meetings), a potential client might begin talking about slightly riskier things such as what projects they are engaged with at work. Even though the information is not too threatening, we begin to talk about our likes and dislikes.

Level 4: Personal feelings:

After a while a client might move on to share issues that are more personal. After developing deep rapport with someone, they might then share more intimate hopes and fears, secrets, and attitudes about other people. Increasingly, we take risks when we share this information. You will need to be seen as a trusted advisor for a client to share such personal feelings.

Level 5: Peak communication:

This is the ultimate level of disclosure and is seldom reached. Only with our most intimate friends do we reveal such personal information. Peak communication is rare because of the risk and trust involved in being so open and revealing.

If you sense that your clients aren’t opening up to you with their thoughts or feelings about the service they are receiving, you may want to read on…

11 Ways of Building Rapport 

  1. If you are sitting then lean forward, towards the person you are talking to, with hands open and arms and legs uncrossed. This is open body language and will help you and the person you are talking to feel more relaxed.
  1. Give plenty of eye-contact but be careful not to make them feel uncomfortable. When listening, nod and make encouraging sounds and gestures. Smile!
  1. Use the other person’s name early in the conversation. This is not only seen as polite but will also reinforce the name in your mind so you are less likely to forget it!
  1. Ask the other person open questions (eg ‘Tell me about…’). Open questions require more than a yes or no answer. Try to find links between common experiences.
  1. Show that you have really listened and want to understand. Summarise, reflect and clarify back to the other person what you think they have said. This gives opportunity for any misunderstandings to be rectified quickly.
  1. Build on the other person’s ideas and try to co-create something together.
  1. Try to show empathy. Demonstrate that you can understand how the other person feels and can see things from their point of view.
  1. Be non-judgmental towards the other person. Let go of stereotypes and any preconceived ideas you may have about the person.
  1. Admit when you don’t know the answer or have made a mistake. Being honest is always the best tactic, acknowledging mistakes will help to build trust.
  1. Be authentic, with visual and verbal behaviours working together to maximize the impact of your communication.
  1. Offer a compliment, avoid criticism and be polite.

For more on this topic, see

Note: For more on levels of communication, see J Powell J (1998): Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?

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