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Relationships

The Importance of Rapport

Five tips for creating conversational reciprocity.

Key points

  • Creating rapport and having engaging conversations are important communication skills.
  • Effective communication skills are critical for healthy relationships and life satisfaction.
  • Practicing reciprocity, curiosity, openness, and a positive attitude help to initiate and maintain connections with others.

Healthy relationships are a fundamental human need and necessary for our ability to thrive.

Good communication matters in relationships. We are taught how to express ourselves orally and in writing and encouraged to speak our truth clearly and accurately. Listening is an often overlooked communication skill and is as important, and in some cases, even more, important than speaking, particularly when emotions are high.

However, another basic and often-neglected skill is the ability to conduct a conversation and establish rapport, whether with a stranger, new acquaintance, colleague, or loved one. Building rapport is important for developing successful relationships and your health (Baker, 2020; Capella, 2009). While you may not wish to participate in such interactions unless needed, employing such social skills can benefit your ability to be successful in the workplace and in your personal life.

In the workplace, we want to work with people we like and trust. Communication ability is a skill employers value (Weldy, 1997) and is found among successful entrepreneurs (Montagno, 1986). A psychological handshake is needed to establish a trusting relationship to set the groundwork for a successful connection. If the personal relationship does not deepen along with the business relationship, it may lack resilience when it hits a bump in the road. Therefore, the ongoing effort is required to intentionally connect and deepen the relationship with the other person.

Similarly, relationships in our personal lives require ongoing effort and attention to create or maintain interpersonal bonds. We initiate such relationships through conversation, which can also deepen to become more intimate over time.

Though you may not choose to deepen your connection with any given person at any given moment (you don’t want to overshare either), failure to create intimacy in personal relationships can lead to a sense of isolation and loneliness and make the relationship less resilient. For example, relationship researcher John Gottman described stonewalling as one of the predictors of divorce (Gottman Institute). Effective communication fosters healthy and resilient relationships, especially when met with challenges.

Creating Rapport

Likely you’ve experienced and seen conversations ranging from awkward or harmful to pleasurable, meaningful, and trust-enabling. Though it’s true that it takes two to tango, you can nurture your conversational skills to help you have more fun, create and develop meaningful connections, and even foster your success and life satisfaction throughout your life.

A successful conversation may benefit from interpersonal chemistry, but you can improve your odds of a good outcome by being prepared and committed to creating the right environment in your interpersonal interactions. Even with the most compatible love relationships, when the endorphins dissipate, the hard work of maintaining and even building the connection with our loved ones becomes even more important.

Tips for Rapport-Building

Here are some tips for creating an effective conversation with others:

First, commit to reciprocity. A reciprocal conversation is one where both parties participate more or less equally.

If you tend to hold back or be quieter in a conversation, try to share more about your views or yourself. If a large part of your life feels private, decide in advance which topics would be enjoyable to discuss with others. A range of options will provide more opportunities to find commonalities with your partner.

If you tend to do more of the talking, avoid over-sharing and make an effort to hold back to give space for others to speak. Ask a question to encourage quieter ones to engage and to demonstrate your interest in getting to know them. Don’t interrupt; ask follow-up questions to demonstrate that you’re listening and wish to get to know them. Come prepared with generic questions if you have trouble thinking of good questions on the spot.

Second, be open, curious, and affirming. People wish to be viewed as valuable and interesting. When you give them the benefit of the doubt as to their virtue, likability, intelligence, and capability, and you believe you will discover commonality, they’re more likely to reciprocate an affirming view of you and engage in mutual discovery.

It can feel challenging to converse with someone closed off and critical. Staying curious about their views and the origin of their beliefs can shed light on their position and foster compassion instead of judgment. After feeling heard, they may feel more open to listening to other perspectives and cultivating reciprocity in the conversation.

Third, nourish a positive attitude. Recall the value of creating positive relationships on your health and wellbeing. Focus more on what’s going well in your life than what feels most challenging. While you should avoid being Pollyanna-ish, you should also steer clear of being a Negative Nelly.

Fourth, offer your partner your undivided attention using both verbal and nonverbal means. Eye contact, putting away your phone, leaning in slightly, nodding your head, and making affirming sounds at appropriate times signals to your partner that they matter.

Finally, hone your skill and practice. Continue to educate yourself on building healthy relationship skills, such as from the on-demand learning modules available through the Foundation for Family and Community Healing or many other resources available for these important life skills. Be intentional about your effort to create rapport as you enter various social and professional situations.

In conclusion, a little effort at establishing rapport can create opportunities, better health, and be fun and informative. Your conversation partners will thank you.

References

Baker, Z. G., Watlington, E. M., & Knee, C. R. (2020). The Role of Rapport in Satisfying One's Basic Psychological Needs. Motivation and emotion, 44(2), 329–343. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-020-09819-5

Cappella, J.N. (1990) On Defining Conversational Coordination and Rapport, Psychological Inquiry,1:4, 303-305, DOI: 10.1207/s15327965pli0104_5

Gottman Institute, The Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling, https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-recognizing-criticism-co…, accessed 6/16/22.

Montagno, R. V., Kuratko, D. F., & Scarcella, J. H. (1985). Perception of Entrepreneurial Success Characteristics. American Journal of Small Business, 10(3), 25–32. https://doi.org/10.1177/104225878501000303

Weldy, T. G., & Icenogle, M. L. (1997). A Managerial Perspective: Oral Communi cation Competency Is Most Important for Business Students in the Workplace Jeanne D. Maes. The Journal of Business Communication (1973), 34(1), 67–80. https://doi.org/10.1177/002194369703400104

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