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The 4 Keys to Building Rapport

Tearing down the WALL

by Mark A. Vickers
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Emily, a sales manager in a large organization, was having significant challenges with her team.  Communication with team members was inconsistent, and she continually struggled to motivate them. Her team was regularly missing their monthly objectives, and failed to provide meaningful status updates.

The core issue Emily faced is all too common. 

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Anytime you are communicating with people, your ability to create rapport is key to your success.

Emily did not realize that there is a WALL between her and the team, and her responsibility to take the WALL down as quickly as possible.

Two simple questions helped Emily realize she had not built rapport, or developed any form of relationship with her team members.

1) Have you spent time building a relationship with your team members?

2) Do you know what they like, want, and need at home and at work?

In Emily’s case, the answer to both of these questions was no.  She was attempting to manage people with whom she had no relationship other than being “the boss”.

Establishing strong rapport does not mean learning everything about your customer or employee’s private lives, but rather, showing them that you care about them and what is important to them.

Taking the WALL down

The wall between you and other people can be removed by developing your skills and maintaining focus on four key concepts:

  • W- Watch
  • A – Ask
  • L – Listen
  • L – Learn

W - Watch

Observe any master of rapport, and you will see a person who has a keen awareness of their surroundings including other people and how they react.

What to watch for before the first word is spoken

When you enter into a rapport building situation, your observation skills will help you determine good starting points for your conversation.

Before the first words are said, take a few seconds to take stock of the surroundings.

If you are meeting someone in their home or office look for conversation starters or anything that might create common ground. 

You might look for:

  • Any item that is given a place of prominence
  • What is on their desk and side tables
  • Pictures
  • Awards, memorabilia, or collectibles

If they are coming into your office you will have fewer clues so pay close attention to what they are looking at. When you notice that they are paying special attention to something, it may be a sign of a potential conversation starter.

As you are building rapport

Once engaged in a rapport-building conversation, your skill at observing the reactions of the other person will help you guide the conversation in the most productive direction.

Pay close attention to:

  • Their eyes
  • Their body positioning
  • Their gestures
  • What they look at during the conversation 


When you are observing people as part of rapport-building, never make an assessment based on a single “sign”. 

People are called “individuals” for a reason and each will respond in their own way.  Look for combinations of signs and signals, and changes over the course of the conversation to understand more accurately how they are responding to you.

A - Ask

Asking powerful questions will provide you the most reliable way to create rapport.  Beyond just asking powerful questions, having a strategy with preplanned questions frees you to focus more intently on the other person.

As you consider the questions you will use to build rapport, choose questions that will:

  • Show you taking an interest in them
  • Build a relationship based on the needs of the other person
  • Show your understanding of your area of expertise
  • Gather important information to direct the conversation

By asking questions that show a genuine interest in the other person’s wants, needs, and interests, they are more likely to open up to you.

If you have similar rapport-building situations on a regular basis, to take the time to develop a question library that you draw from when building rapport. 


During the rapport-building segment of a conversation, it is easy to slip into the “I” mode, telling the other person everything about what you do.  Your objective is to get them into “I” mode.

Keep the rapport-building about them.  They should be doing most of the talking.

L - Listen

You have asked your powerful questions and now it is time to employ the most important rapport-building skill – listening.

So many professionals ask all the right questions, but they don't really listen to the answers they are given. These professionals assume they are building rapport, but they forget to really listen:

  • Intently to the words
  • For changes in tone, volume, or speed
  • Vocal cues for emotions like excited, contemplative, annoyed
  • For vocal cue and body language changes
  • Watch for changes and correlations between words/vocal/body to establish base line responses 

In addition to paying close attention to what the other is saying, become an expert at listening to what is not being said in your rapport building discussion.

There are two specific situations to be aware of: the one word answers, and intentional omissions and avoidance.

If you're asking powerful questions and all you're getting back is one word answers, odds are you're going down a track that the other person is not interested in pursuing.

In addition to single words answers, it is not unusual for the other person to provide partial answers as they omit the details in an attempt to avoid complete disclosure. In many cases, the omitted information is exactly what you want to learn, but they are not yet comfortable sharing.  Make a quick mental note and find a way to come back to that point later in the discussion.


Rapport building should never feel like an interrogation.  Remember that your objective is to get to know as much about them by letting them know and feel that you care about what is in their best interest.

L - Learn

Learning how to build rapport is about trying things, watching and listening, observing the end result and learning from it so that you adjust your approach the next time.

There's no one right way, or a magic process to building rapport so it is important to learn what works for you and the situations you work in.

Become an ACTIVE student of rapport building:

  • Learn what works for you with different people and different situations
  • Become more aware of how others react to you
  • Try new approaches when encountering roadblocks
  • After each attempt at rapport building do a critical assessment
  • Watch how others build rapport

Less than one month after Emily began focusing on removing the WALL with her team, people who were distant became engaged both personally and professionally, and overall team performance began to improve.

Become a student of building rapport and over time you will see your ability to generate rapport will develop quickly and your success rate skyrocket.

About the Author

Mark A. Vickers is a Certified Professional Coach, a Gitomer Certified Advisor, and Certified World Class Speaking Coach.  Mark is a communications consultant focused on helping you and your organization achieve Excellence through improved communication and speaking skills.  He is known for creating and delivering specialized and innovative programs to help his clients.  For more information about Mark and his workshops, consulting, certification programs, please visit: