The Role of Rapport in Building Trust


Paying attention to and nurturing the relationship at play in any exchange is important but building trust in relationships is especially critical when it comes to creating a climate that is conducive to creativity and so to innovation.

Trust, like credibility, is earned and built over time. It is not something you can wish for one minute and automatically have the next. One of the most important steps to building and reinforcing trust is to develop your natural ability to establish good rapport with others when you interact. What is rapport? Genie Z Laborde talks about rapport as a process of establishing and maintaining a relationship of mutual trust between two or more parties. (Laborde, 2006).

This definition implies that rapport is something that has to be worked at. It should also be acknowledged that with some people and in some circumstances it is something that happens naturally and spontaneously from the outset. You could describe this as having ‘clicked’ with somebody.

How do you know when you have naturally fallen into rapport? Here are some of the signs that you will probably recognise and have experienced yourself when the ‘click’ happens.

  1. You feel comfortable.
  2. You feel the exchange is enjoyable.
  3. You feel you understand each other.
  4. You feel you have things in common.
  5. You are happy to stay in the conversation.
  6. You are interested and tend to pay more attention.
  7. You may open up more.
  8. You match each other’s non-verbal signals comfortably without realising it.
  9. You may not notice that time is passing.
  10. You feel encouraged to seek out this person’s company again.

Someone watching and listening to a conversation of this kind would observe a certain degree of matching in the body language. For example, two people deep in conversation may lean in towards each other or change position in a similar way. When the conversation is harmonious, it is also often possible to detect similar voice levels and tones. The facial expressions are also likely to reflect the harmonious nature of the exchange. The assumption is, that at a relationship level, the exchange is functioning well and to the satisfaction of both parties.

Nevertheless, establishing rapport does not mean that you have to be everyone’s best friend or agree with everything that others say. You can still be in rapport with someone when you agree to disagree or when you challenge each other’s position or views.

For many reasons, rapport does not always happen naturally or quickly. This places you at a disadvantage with the need to play catch up. Establishing and nurturing rapport is a critical skill that enables you to start on the right foot and ground the relationship on mutual respect. It moves you in the direction of a better understanding of each other.

In the workplace, where you are exposed to a diverse range of people with whom you are required to work to achieve results, there will be many occasions when you have to make an effort to improve or accelerate the quality of the relationship. This implies investing further time and energy in such things as actively listening, respecting differences and seeking common ground in order to really get to know and understand the person in front of you.

When you approach people with this positive and open attitude and behaviour, you lead the way by example, making it more likely that those around you will reciprocate. You will find that good relationships begin to come to you and you have kick–started the longer term process of building trust.