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Body Language

Body Language for Building Rapport and Connection

Here are the three aspects of rapport and the nonverbal components.

Key points

  • Rapport is a combination of attentiveness, positivity, and coordination.
  • Building rapport and connection is helpful for happy and healthy romantic relationships.
  • Body language like eye contact, smiling, and behavioral mimicry can help to improve relationship rapport.
alda2/ Pixabay
Source: alda2/ Pixabay

When someone uses the word "rapport," we often think about the connection between a client and counselor. While rapport is an essential component of a therapeutic relationship, it is also important in other trust-based personal interactions. Particularly, from first impressions, to long-term relationships and marriage, building and keeping rapport is an essential part of romantic relationships too.

So, how do we build rapport and connection in our relationships? Initially, we might think of building rapport and attraction through conversation. After that, we could include how a genuine and warm mindset can grow a loving connection as well.

Nevertheless, given that a large percentage of our communication is nonverbal, it is important to consider the types of body language that help to create rapport and connection in our everyday relationships too. Fortunately, a classic review article by Tickle-Degnen and Rosenthal (1990) provides a clear understanding of the factors involved in building rapport, as well as a discussion of the body language that makes such a connection happen.

3 Components of Rapport

According to Tickle-Degnen and Rosenthal (1990), the nature of rapport is fairly simple. Essentially, it is a combination of feelings and behaviors expressed during positive interpersonal interactions. More specifically, those feelings and behaviors fall within three components:

  • Attentiveness: Partners pay attention to each other and show interest in each other. This leads to a focus on the interaction and a feeling of bonding.
  • Positivity: Partners share positive banter and pleasant conversation. This increases feelings of caring and friendliness.
  • Coordination: Partners also take turns, respond, and reciprocate with one another. This boosts feelings of harmony, empathy, and predictability.

Together, these three components allow for the development and maintenance of rapport. Nevertheless, Tickle-Degnen and Rosenthal further noted that the importance of each component changes as rapport evolves within a relationship. Specifically, they observe, "Upon interacting with a new acquaintance, the talk is circumspect, the behavior polite." Thus, they suggest that early rapport building focuses most heavily on attentiveness and positivity.

As a relationship progresses and partners get to know each other better, however, the importance of these components changes. Specifically, partners become more coordinated with each other and feel more comfortable sharing a wider range of behaviors and opinions.

As Tickle-Degnen and Rosenthal (1990) state, "Over time, we would likely feel less constrained to present ourselves continuously in a favorable or pleasant light." Thus, while attention is still necessary for long-term rapport, coordination tends to become more important over time. In this way, rapport can be maintained through that coordination, even when something serious or negative has to be discussed.

Body Language for Building Rapport

Tickle-Degnen and Rosenthal also review the types of body language used to create rapport in relationships. Essentially, these are nonverbal communications that signal attentiveness, positivity, or coordination with a partner. They also highlight many of the flirting behaviors I discuss in previous posts and my book, Attraction Psychology.

1. Showing Attentiveness. The review suggests that attentiveness is best communicated through making eye contact, having a welcoming body posture, and getting closer to a partner. Eye contact makes intuitive sense, especially since "paying attention" to someone often literally means to "look at" them. Beyond that though, eye contact can help you get a lover's attention and a steady gaze can increase attraction between romantic partners too.

Similarly, turning toward someone, with uncrossed arms and legs, signals interest and attentiveness—whereas turning away or closing off does not. This body language lets you know when a partner is interested in you as well.

Furthermore, standing or sitting close is also more attentive than remaining at a farther distance. Thus, it is important to learn how to get physically closer with a partner to increase attentiveness and rapport too.

2. Conveying Positivity. To convey positivity in a nonverbal way, Tickle-Degnen and Rosenthal suggest both smiling and affirmative head nodding (signaling "yes"). Although this seems simple, such nonverbal behaviors are among the most key flirting techniques, particularly used by women. Head nodding and smiling also communicate the same positive enthusiasm and appreciation that is effective in rapport building through verbal conversation too.

Beyond that, the review also notes that an open body posture and leaning forward also signal positivity. Such expansive body language (open postures involving widespread limbs, a stretched torso, and/or enlargement of the occupied space) is very attractive. Taken together, this is why the best way to flirt is often to start a bit reserved but then lean in and open up over time.

3. Establishing Coordination. Last but not least, Tickle-Degnen and Rosenthal suggest that individuals can build coordination through interactional synchrony and mirroring. Put simply, this means taking turns, mimicking a partner's behavior, and getting into a rhythm with each other.

Coordinated activities like dancing help here—but even a conversation has a nonverbal, back-and-forth type of "dancing" involved. Such mimicry and matching are attractive as well. So, just as animals do with coordinated mating dances, we can build rapport and connection with a mate of our own, too.

© 2023 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.


Tickle-Degnen, L., & Rosenthal, R. (1990). The nature of rapport and its nonverbal correlates. Psychological Inquiry, 1(4), 285–293.

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