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Establishing Rapport

What does it mean to have rapport?

Simply put, it is a relationship, especially one of mutual trust or emotional affinity. When you are in rapport it is almost as if something magical happens. Because when others feel listened to, and heard, then that person will develop a comfortable feeling of ‘This person thinks like I do, I can relax.’ A bond is formed, and people are motivated to follow the influence of someone with whom they have bonded.

Rapport is an all-purpose skill often taken for granted. Some new intermediaries object to rapport as a skill because they are afraid it means being “soft and fuzzy”.

When people have rapport, they are mutually responsive. As one leans forward, the other will too; as one speaks slower, the other does too; when one relaxes, the response is mirrored. Build rapport by matching your counterpart’s body language and voice tone. Then, to find out if you really do have rapport, subtly mismatch by leaning forward or speaking faster. If the other person copies you, it is a sign that you have good rapport and that the other party is open to your influence.

Rapport building is particularly challenging today because intermediaries tend to be cynical. And to add to this obstacle, many Intermediaries are rusty when it comes to rapport.

We need to realise that the opportunities for building rapport extend beyond the opening, but missing out on rapport during the opening can set you back. Generally speaking, people expect at least a few moments of pleasantries to get comfortable. During your opening you can take advantage of opportunities for chitchat about virtually anything reasonable. But rapport is more than small talk. It is equally created by your presence: your appearance, voice, greeting, confidence, and how well the Intermediary identifies with you. It is built before, during your appointment and at your consecutive meetings. The following will assist you in building rapport:

  • being on time,
  • not wasting the client/Intermediary’s time,
  • and prompt follow-up.

While it isn’t necessary or even desirable to dazzle your client in the opening, your presence is a critical factor. Rapport is created by a sum total of your image and every other factor that adds up to the unspoken statement, “This is who I am.” All these establish the ultimate presence factor – credibility. We will address credibility in more depth later.

It is very important to project confidence during the opening without appearing arrogant or pushy. The real problem with arrogance apart from the fact that it turns most clients off is that it is usually accompanied by complacency and a lack of imagination and innovation. But if you keep it in mind you can avoid arrogance and still come across with confidence.

Some intermediaries are concerned that once they embark on relating, on building rapport, they will not be able to get “back” to business. Time spent on rapport is time well spent.

To achieve top performance from your clients it is necessary to excite their interest in your ideas. Building trusting relationships with your clients, understanding their values, involve them in decision making, secure your client’s commitment, and give your client’s the necessary support.

You are more likely to gain the client’s willing co-operation if you have a sound relationship with them. Look for opportunities to build mutual respect. Offer your client’s the support when they need it, and they will be more likely to respond favourably to your requests for co-operation. When you talk to your client’s, match their non-verbal behaviour to build rapport. It will predispose them toward giving you a fair hearing.

Now as you have discovered up to now, rapport is not partying till after midnight, nor drinking yourself into a stupor. That is precisely not what we mean by building rapport. It is rather the establishing of professional working relationships with your clients. Forming partnerships, which will be beneficial to the client, intermediary and the company.

Stating the purpose of the visit

Once you have established rapport, it is important that you should clearly state the purpose why you are there.

A primary goal of any relationship building activity is to create opportunities to demonstrate that you have something to contribute. Perceived expertise allows you to persuade people. If you can convince your client that you are an expert on a topic, you can persuade them with respect to that topic.

There’s no better way to do this than to start contributing your knowledge and abilities.                              

The following questions will help you in establishing the purpose of the visit:

  • What is my objective?
    • Your objective is what you want to get out of the call
  • What is my purpose?
    • Your purpose is the flip side - the client’s side – of your objective. It answers the all-important question: “what’s in it for the client?”
  • What is my agenda? What is the process that we will be following?
    • Having an agenda helps you to plan and control the call.
  • How can we both win? What is the pay-off for being in a relationship?
    • During this phase you want to establish a win-win situation that will benefit both the client and you as far as the future relationship is concerned.

Some helpful tips in building rapport:

  • Identify qualities that help you make a positive first impression.
  • Build rapport by asking questions. Keep asking.
  • When you need help, ask for it.
  • Be willing to give before you expect to receive.
  • Identify aspects of your attitude that affect how you communicate with others. Use your attitude to build rapport.
  • Encourage others to communicate with you.
  • Say what you mean.
  • Show an interest in the person.
  • Build rapport by listening.
  • Listen to what is different, not for what’s familiar
  • Build rapport by giving compliments, not flattery.
  • Be sure your advice is being sought
  • Earn the right to offer advice.
  • Show appreciation.

  1. Identify qualities that help you make a good first impression


A major part of presence is appearance. The rules of thumb for dress are: (1) look to your seniors as role models, slot in with the style of dress of the client’s you are serving. If they dress smart casual you can dress smart casual. If they dress more formal, you should dress more formal. (2) In general don’t draw attention to your dress at the expense of your ideas; (3) reflect/ mirror your customer base.

Appearance can’t compensate for a bad idea, poor performance, or bad rapport, but with others factors relatively equal, it gives you an important edge.

Eye Contact

As Shakespeare tells us, “The eyes are the windows of the soul.” People generally don’t trust someone who doesn’t look them in the eye in a one-on-one talk and feel side-lined when they are ignored. (In some cultures, however, not looking at someone can be a sign of respect.)


Your voice can be a major contributor to presence. Tone, pace, inflection, volume, and energy makes a statement about you. You can easily pick up a person’s attitude in his/her voice.

The intonation in your voice can help you sell. A modulated voice is more interesting to listen to, and with it you can underscore words. A flat voice is boring and dull. A smile on the lips puts a smile in the voice.

Body Language

Your body language can set a positive or negative tone. Your body language sends messages positive or negative that can and will influence the way your client responds to you.

Also, try mirroring. To create resonance and compatibility, adapt your body language to that of your customer. Don’t abuse it, but do use it.

Word choice

What you say and how you say it, can impact on the rapport you try to create. Statements like, “I’m not sure you will understand when I explain it to you, it is rather technical.” “I just wanted to tell you about” or “you possibly wouldn’t be interested in analysing your financial affairs on our new S.Net system”.


A great attitude is something your competitors can’t easily replicate. Intermediaries with positive attitudes often display certain values. They are self-reliant, they take responsibility, they initiate, and they are pro-active. They don’t see themselves as victims of some force out of their control. They take control. They don’t sit back and wait. They test the waters and often take a risk by jumping in. They are open to learning and new concepts. They are not defensive, protective, or provincial about what they know. They look at their client relationships as partnerships where both parties can win and they have energy and drive to win.

  1. Build rapport by asking questions. Keep asking.

Credibility is an asset that does wonderful things for Intermediaries. Most importantly, it earns you the right to expand the scope of your conversations with the client. But you must be ready to take advantages of this opportunity. As your client become more willing to openly share, you must be ready to broaden the scope of your questions – to find out more about their needs and their motivations for making a decision that will favour your product or service. Examples of such questions could be: “what do you want to accomplish? Or, “What outcomes do you wish to have occur? Or, “What expectations do you have? If you feel you can provide the services, then you must gain permission to demonstrate your solution by using the following question, If I “can show you a way to solve this problem, would you give me an opportunity to do so?” We will be discussing the various questioning techniques at greater length at a later stage.

  1. When you need help, ask for it.

Building a network of supporters, allies, and potential helpers is the key to successful influencing and rapport building. Make it a life-long habit to form partnerships and cultivate alliances through a genuine interest in people around you. Develop real partnerships with others. A partnership is an interdependent relationship with another. It’s a relationship where you need each other. It’s a relationship that is built on trust and mutual respect. When you are able to ask the right questions and help other people do what they are already doing, but more effectively, you are on the road to developing a real partnership. It takes time; it takes caring; it takes being part of the planning process. Mostly it takes the best you have to offer another. Points to remember: (1) Good network skills come from a desire to be of service to others. (2) If you do not enjoy networking, you are unlikely to do it well – do not force it. (3) People are often more receptive and approachable when they are at a social occasion.

Asking for help also create an excellent opportunity for building rapport, trust and long term relationships with your clients. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You are more likely to be trusted if you say, “I’m not completely sure how to deal with this; can I talk it over with you?” than if you say, “Leave it to me; I’ll solve everything!” By asking for help you are inviting the client to join you in joint problem solving: a sure path to building trust and rapport.  

  1. Be willing to give before you expect to receive.

A primary goal of any relationship-building activity is to create opportunities to demonstrate that you have something to contribute. There is no better way to do this than to start contributing. You must give a favour to earn a favour. The one way you are trying to build rapport and influence the client must visibly be perceived that you are willing to be the first to make an investment in the relationship in order to earn and deserve the relationship. Does this feel risky? It should, because it is. It is about taking the risk of rejection.

  1. Identify aspects of your attitude that affect how you communicate with others. Use your attitude to build rapport.

Dr. Frank Crane reminds us that a ball rebounds from the wall with precisely the force with which it was thrown against the wall. There is a law in physics to the effect that action is equal to reaction. That law is so true in the realm of influence. In fact, it affects multiply with a leader’s influence. The action of a leader multiplies in reaction because there are several followers. To a smile given, many smiles return. In the same way you as intermediary influences your own productivity and that of the company if your attitude is negative towards your company, your products and the services that you offer.

I believe that the client catch an intermediaries attitude more quickly than his/her actions. An attitude is reflected by others even when they don’t follow the action. An attitude can be expressed without a word being spoken. How do you influence your client’s either positively or negatively by your attitude? What do you need to change about your attitude to send out a more positive message?

  1. Encourage your clients to communicate with you.

The way to involve clients in communication is to ask questions, for example, ”What do you like about the current situation?” or, “What would you like to change?” or, “What is most important to you?” or, “Do you have a particular preference for a course of action?” or, “What do you need from this?” The needs that your client’s express in their own words has more credibility to them than the needs you tell them they have. For example, you may want to convince the client to implement a new product. Ask him or her what he or she likes about the current product. The answer you receive will tell you what needs to be preserved or improved by your proposal. Relate the new product specifically to your client’s needs and you have buy in. For example, “By using our (the client’s and your) plan will have clear benefits that are in tune with our (the client’s and your) strategy, and will have a positive impact on your (the intermediaries) production.”

  1. Say what you mean.

As a great intermediary you must be able to communicate the bad news, along with the good news. So if you are not happy with the response you are receiving from the client be willing to tell the truth, always with tact and care. Don’t hint, “It would be nice to receive some business again.” Tell the client straight, but tactful that your mutual partnership relationship is based on give and take. If he or she provides sufficient business, you in turn will be able to provide a service that match the business received.

  1. Show an interest in the person.

There is no more certain way to make somebody think you are fascinating and enjoyable to be with, than to keep them talking about themselves.

When someone says, “I think this”, the appropriate response is not, “Well I think that.” Instead, you need to find out why they think what they do. So, you ask: “Why do you think that?” or “What led you to that conclusion?” or, “Do you think it’s always true, or just in certain circumstances?” The more they say in response to your questions, the better you will understand them, and the more you will be able to find the right thing to say that will be both helpful and acceptable. An important part of building rapport and forming trust relationships is the feeling that “This person understands me!” These questions flow naturally if we have a genuine interest in the other person.

  1. Build rapport by listening.

Use the mnemonic “EARS” to help build rapport and understanding with the other person, and to help you keep track of the key points being made. Listen for key words that express values, needs, hopes, goals, concerns, and interest.

Listen with your “EARS

  • Empathise with the person you are speaking to – step into the client’s
  • Acknowledge his or her interests and needs – use non-verbal markers, such as a nod of the head.
  • Reflect on his or her concerns – use key words in your questions and suggestions.
  • Summarise the key points made – ask whether you have understood correctly.
  1. Listen to what is different, not for what’s familiar.

It is important to realise that not one of your client’s communication styles will be identical. As you talk to the client you should listen and the question in your mind should be, “What makes this client different from any other client I’ve served? What does that mean for what I should say and how I should behave?”

Unfortunately, this is hard work. The natural tendency for most of us is to do the exact opposite: we listen for things we recognise and have met before, so that we can draw on past experiences, approaches, and tools that we already know and are familiar with. It’s the way most of us work, but it doesn’t always serve us well.

Before you can help the client you need to understand what’s on their mind. You must create situations where they will tell you more about their issues concerns and needs. Only by finding out more about your client’s can you discover how to be more effective in your relationship with them.

  1. Build rapport by giving compliments, not flattery.

Look for opportunities to pay a sincere compliment to your client. Create an opportunity where you can pay a compliment in front of his or her colleagues to show your appreciation.

  1. Be sure your advice is being sought

One of the biggest mistakes intermediaries make is to think that their client’s always wants their advice. All people including clients want affirmation, approval, support, and appreciation. In order to get your clients to listen and accept advice, you must develop the skills and behaviour patterns that ensure that you provide affirmation, support, approval, and appreciation along with your advice.

  1. Earn the right to offer advice.

Unless you’ve been there, done that and wore the t-shirt, it is extremely difficult to just offer advice and expect your client to listen, buy in and apply your advice. Firstly, you need to understand the client’s situation, secondly you need to understand how your client feel about it and thirdly and most importantly, convince the client that you do understand the situation, and the way he or she feel about it.

This is not always easy, if you do not have the relevant experience to back you up. You can overcome this by becoming an expert in your field as intermediary.

  1. Show appreciation.

Everyone wants to be appreciated. There is nothing more destructive than to be taken for granted. Although your client’s rarely appreciate the efforts you have gone to serve them, they do expect that you show them appreciation for having them as clients.

The truth is, we all want to be appreciated for what we have done. Not during times when we don’t deserve it, but when we truly deliver. Expressing appreciation to your clients goes a long way in cementing relationships!

As I have mentioned earlier, when people have rapport, they are mutually responsive. We cannot start; neither continues a relationship unless we have build proper rapport. It is the cornerstone of any future success.

© Successful Salesmanship – Johann Cloete