Building Better Rapport in the Workplace

Not too long ago, I did what any self-respecting woman who sees a glorious pair of boots on another woman while shopping at Costco would do: I stopped her half way through the pastry aisle and asked where I could find a pair. When she replied, flattered, “Nine West”, I went on a wild goose chase hoping to find what looked to me to be the perfect boots-boots that I imagined would undoubtedly make my hair look shinier and my torso slimmer. After calling several locations, I was directed towards a mall near my home where I spoke with a sales associate. While the system indicated having my size in stock, she was unable to find them. Instead of leaving me hanging, she told me she knew exactly how I felt and promised to call me in a half hour, after thoroughly checking the stock room. With a jovial tone, she assured me not to worry and that she would do all she could to help solve the mystery of the missing boots. Exactly thirty minutes later, as promised, she returned my call only to tell me, with grave disappointment in her own voice that the boots had been shipped out to a warehouse. While she could have stopped her efforts there, already going above and beyond her duty, she then made her best effort to track down the delivery truck, speak to the driver, who assured her the boots were long gone, before calling me back to tell me, painfully, that she hoped another equally wonderful pair of boots would come in soon. While I could have been left incredibly disappointed by the entire ordeal – as the purpose for my search had ultimately gone unfulfilled – I was, instead, overwhelmed with gratitude, not only towards the sales person for her efforts, but towards the company as a whole. This got me thinking; what was it that made an otherwise unfortunate encounter so positive in the end? It was all about building excellent rapport.

According to Tony Robbins, “rapport is the ability to enter someone else’s world, to make him feel that you understand him, that you have a strong common bond.” Surely we have all met someone like this: charming, charismatic, trustworthy and likeable. In the end, this person, one who is able to build effective rapport, makes  us feel positive and understood, and in turn, we tend to respond in kind. Being able to build effective rapport not only, allows us to feel more meaningfully and effectively connected to others, but it can help us successfully communicate, garner support for our actions and ideas, create a good base of clients and customers, help us settle in to jobs more smoothly, keep workplace volatility at bay, and become more likeable, as a whole. In fact, there is a reason why many medical schools teach future doctors how to build effective rapport with patients: A person is much more likely to be honest and thorough, opening up to even the most embarrassing events when they perceive there is mutual liking and trust and that, their doctors will have their best interests in mind.

Although the idea of building rapport may seem like a daunting task, especially if we haven’t been born with the gift of being particularly charming, there are specific skills we can learn in order to improve our rapport with others:

Remember Names

Often, when we first meet someone, we are so concentrated on introducing ourselves that we pay little attention to what the other person is saying. According to Dale Carnegie, author of the best-selling book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, “a person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language”, and remembering and using another person’s name allows them to feel as though they are important to us and more at ease. If you have forgotten someone’s name, just asking him or her, “kindly remind me of your name” will tend to do the trick.

See Eye to Eye

Identifying areas where you can see eye-to-eye helps both parties feel comfortable and immediately connected. For instance, a good set of polite questions to ask when first meeting someone which will field for areas of common ground include: where do they live (do you live around/grow up around here?), who is in their family (do you have any siblings?), what is their profession (what are area you in? what do you enjoy most about your job?), what do they do for fun (did you catch the Jays game? what kind of movies do you like?), and if they’ve recently gone away (have you ever visited Europe?).  Asking open-ended questions which start with ‘how’ and ‘why’, tend to be good markers for prolonging conversation and getting to know someone beyond the simple “yes and no’s”.

If you can’t quite seem to find much in common, however, become genuinely interested in your differences and talk about the person’s interests. For instance, if someone were to tell you that they’ve recently taken up knitting, a topic you presumably know little about, ask why, why has she or he decided to take up the hobby now, and ask about the basic fundamentals of how to knit. This will not only help you fine-tune your listening skills, but if you are sincere in learning about the other person’s interest, it will make them feel important, as well.


Being able to see a situation from another person’s perspective is crucial; it makes them feel understood and cared for. To empathize, let the other person do a great deal of the talking and sit in a different “perceptual position”. For instance, how does the situation look from your perspective? From the other person’s perspective? From a third party’s perspective, who might just be observing? Trying honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view will allow you to be empathetic to their ideas and desires, allowing them to feel more positively in your response.

Never criticize, condemn or complain.

Criticizing others never yields any positive results. Think back to the most negative person you know; what was so displeasing about them to you? Was it that they were frustrated and seeking advice about a situation, or that the way in which they were complaining was incredibly off-putting, negative, and aimless? Seeking advice from others makes them feel important and valued, complaining or criticizing makes them feel obligated to listen, but not much else.


When we like someone, we subconsciously change our body language and speech patterns (like vocal tone and volume, and in some cases, even the words we choose) to be similar to theirs. This technique is called ‘mirroring’. When building rapport with someone, take note of their cues and subtly mirror them (for instance, if you are speaking to someone who leans back in their chair, follow suit and mirror their new position). Be subtle with conscious mirroring, as over-doing it can seem insincere and annoying. According to research by the FBI, “when interviewers intentionally align themselves with a witness or suspect through these matching or mirroring techniques, the interviewee is more inclined to respond to the interviewer and subsequently provide information”.

Interestingly enough, the sales person at Nine West exhibited all the areas of establishing good rapport; using my name, emphatically explaining that she knew exactly what it felt like to search for the perfect pair of boots (thereby seeing eye to eye and empathizing with me), never complaining about the extra work she had put in to help me, and mirroring the disappointment in my voice. All of this, in turn, made me feel that she genuinely cared to help me, leaving me with an incredibly positive experience. Though eventually, I did receive my coveted boots, it was the excellent rapport that made the experience so transformative. A little rapport goes a long way; just imagine what it could do for you!

Written By: Mariana Bockarova

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