Wright Foundation | June 5, 2018

Building Rapport When You’re Not in Rapport

We hear a lot about building rapport in the business world, but many of us may wonder what that even means?

Wondering how to build rapport with your coworkers and become a better leader at the office? It turns out there’s no magic formula to build rapport. It can’t be faked. Instead, we need to learn to how to listen and connect with those around us.

Is there a formula for engagement we can follow? Is there a way to “click” with others? Is there a method to build rapport?

In truth, there is no formula for rapport.  Rapport happens organically and comes from genuine, authentic interactions. If you’re chasing rapport, you’ll miss the mark every time.

Think about it—if you walk into a room and say, “I’m here to engage! Let’s connect!” How would people react? We’ve all attended seminars and meetings where someone says, “I’m here to get you excited about X,” and what happens? The message falls flat because someone was trying to force the connection.

Instead, rapport or flow happens naturally. It’s when we’re “on,” when we’re interested and enthused. It’s when we’re ready to focus on connecting with coworkers during a conversation and engage on a deeper level.

What Does it Mean to be in Rapport?

Being in rapport indicates a relationship of affinity or accord. If you are in rapport, you’re fully engaged in the conversation. To check your engagement, ask yourself:


We’ve all been in a meeting where someone’s comments are off-the-wall and aren’t in accord with the room. Maybe their jokes are inappropriate or they’re affirming comments too enthusiastically. Sometimes people may try to fake their way through the connection by repeating the last word of the other person’s sentence, nodding or saying, “okay,” “yeah,” or “uh-huh,” after every comment. Other times they go off on a personal story or anecdote that doesn’t quite seem to tie into the rest of the conversation.

While these actions mimic the appearance of engagement, it’s actually disruptive to the flow of the conversation. At times it simply comes off as distracting. Other times, this type of “faux engagement” even demonstrates and insensitivity to what’s happening.

If you’re waiting for another person to finish their comment, just so you can interject or share your own story, you aren’t truly listening. We’ve all had these types of conversations and they’re often awkward and uncomfortable.

We call this being out of rapport.

You can be physically present, but not involved in the flow of the conversation. There’s a misconception that listening is all about being demonstrative: making eye contact, nodding, smiling. But if you’re not truly listening, you’re not fully engaging in the conversation. You’re simply going through the motions.

The Beauty of Building Rapport & Genuine Engagement

The beauty of building rapport is it brings a creative and generative aspect to the interaction.

We’ve all had the joy of conversations where we’re clicking and connecting. Both parties are listening to each other. Both are relating and experiencing the hum of being in-synch. We call this flow.

When we’re experiencing flow and rapport in conversation, our interactions become both exciting and challenging. We’re able to move into new space and chart new territory. In fact, we can move from the shared areas where we’re engaged and naturally connected and forge ahead into areas where there is less common ground.

This is the space where new ideas are born.

When we’re in rapport we can generate new concepts. Subjects and ideas emerge requiring us to be sensitive to each other, but open.

The best spot for this type of high-level engagement is in a room with grounded leadership to pave the way for the conversation. It’s the responsibility of a leader to establish and build rapport. Great leaders sense what’s emerging and help facilitate that emergence. Leading with vision allows for each person to contribute, share and add to the ideas being generated.

It’s wonderful that each of us can become visionary leaders. The ability to build rapport, engage and grow in conversation, doesn’t come with a title or position in the company. It comes from honest sharing. It comes from respecting the ideas and concepts brought forth by each person in the room. It comes from being open to agree and disagree, responsibly.

You see, being in rapport, doesn’t always mean we affirm every thought raised or concept floated. It takes bravery and responsibility to share disagreements and counterpoints. Yet, it’s conflict that’s part of the constructive process of engagement.

As we write in our book, The Heart of the Fight, “Life = Conflict.”

So let’s not kid ourselves and look at the reality. Everyone has conflict. EVERYONE. Conflict is a fact of an engaged life. As each dance partner does his or her own steps, they step on each other’s toes. In order to get really good at relationships we need to bump into each other…
…Evolutionary biologist, Elisabet Sahtouris (2000) points out the conflict is part of life, beginning at the cellular level. Mitosis, the process of cell division, is a continual cycle of conflict and resolution. A cell begins as one, but this original sense of unity is broken as it divides into two, competing for available resources and creating tension, until a new union or harmony is formed. And then they divide again, creating a new tension in the quest for available resources until another union is formed, beginning the ongoing cycles of unity, tension, diversity, and new harmony. Similarly, a relationship is a constantly growing organism marked by alternating conflict and unity. For the relationship to keep growing, things need to keep breaking apart and reforming.
-The Heart of the Fight

While we may think the ideas around conflict only apply to romantic relationships, they also apply to our social constructs. Whether we’re at home, at the office, or on a date, conflict—breaking apart, tension and harmony—are part of building rapport.

Rapport can’t be forced, but it is something we can and should be open to in every interaction. When we walk into a meeting, we should prepare to listen to the ideas of those around us. We should be willing to form and share our vision with others. We should appreciate and respect the viewpoints of those around us, but not feel afraid to respectfully disagree either. Conflict is a natural part of building rapport, because, at the end of the day rapport is simply honest, genuine engagement.

If you want to build greater connections at the office, maintain and grow your rapport with others, ask yourself if you’re being honest. Are you expressing yourself—likes AND dislikes?

When we’re in rapport with ourselves, we build rapport with those around us.

For more on leadership and growth, please visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training. We’re also happy to announce we’re offering many of our courses for download at a special introductory price. Don’t miss this great opportunity.

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.