Consulting Skills: How to Build Rapport in the Workplace

Consulting Skills: How to Build Rapport in the Workplace

An essential skill for consultants is building rapport, as it lays the foundation for a successful client-consultant relationship. Establishing trust, credibility, and a connection with the client is crucial in ensuring that the consultant is able to understand the client's needs and goals, and provide tailored solutions that meet their requirements. 

A consultant who is skilled in building rapport can put their clients at ease, make them feel valued and heard, and foster an environment of open communication. This, in turn, leads to better collaboration, increased client satisfaction, and higher chances of repeat business. Therefore, building rapport is a critical skill for consultants to master in order to achieve success in their work.

But let’s start at the beginning:

What Is Rapport?

“Rapport forms the basis of meaningful, close, and harmonious relationships between people. 

“It's the sense of connection that you get when you meet someone you like and trust, and whose point of view you understand. 

“It's the bond that forms when you discover that you share one another's values and priorities in life.”

Source: The Nature of Rapport and Its Nonverbal Correlates by Linda Tickle-Degnen and Robert Rosenthal

When You Have Rapport with Someone, You Share:

Mutual attentiveness: you're both focused on, and interested in, what the other person is saying or doing.

Positivity: you're both friendly and happy, and you show care and concern for one another.

Coordination: you feel "in sync" with one another, so that you share a common understanding. Your energy levels, tone, and body language are also similar.

Source: The Nature of Rapport and Its Nonverbal Correlates by Linda Tickle-Degnen and Robert Rosenthal

How to Build Rapport

[TIP]There are two main pillars to building rapport with someone:

  • Understand what matters to them 

  • Develop an authentic and positive relationship.

Understand What Matters to your Clients

At Seer, we like to focus on the people behind the searches, which is why we dig deep into audience analysis and consumer insights to learn about our clients’ audiences. Well, the same principle applies to our clients themselves. The more we learn about our clients, the more we can be sure that we’re focusing on their priorities, understanding their motivations, and aligning with their goals.

Whenever you interact with your clients, keep the following questions in mind:

  • What information do your clients find valuable or interesting?

  • What are their aspirations, fears, and challenges?

  • What are they excited about?

  • Why should they listen to me?

There are several different ways to get the answers you seek:

Pay attention to your clients’ verbal and non-verbal cues to determine sentiment.

93% of communication is non-verbal, so keep track of what your clients are doing instead of saying. Focus on things like facial expressions, body language, volume, emphasis, and intonation to determine how your clients are actually feeling.

Ask them direct questions.

Reading body language is great, but asking direct questions is even better. The more direct and specific you are, the more likely you are to get a useful answer. For example, instead of asking “So, what do you think?” after presenting a report, recommendation, or analysis, dig in with more specific questions like:

  • Are you interested in moving forward with these opportunities?

  • Are these KPIs aligned with your marketing and business goals?

  • Are these updates feasible with the dev team’s current backlog?

When asking these questions, if you’re not getting meaningful answers, try the Ask Why Five Times trick to help get down to the root of the issue.

Develop an Authentic and Positive Relationship


Learning how to ask questions is a teachable skill, but there are no step-by-step instructions that teach us how to build meaningful connections with people. That takes time and trust; however, there are certain things that you can keep in mind to help ensure that you’re building positive relationships.

  • Pay attention to your own body language. It’s important to be authentic because when our words and body language are incongruent, our audience is more likely to trust body language over words. For example, if you deliver great news with a scowl on your face, your client is likely to distrust the words you’ve said.
  • Practice matching and mirroring. No, don’t just mimic what your client is doing and saying - that can be perceived as insincere or mockery. Mirroring is the ability to make observations about the style of someone’s communication and apply aspects of it to your own communication. This will help your client feel understood and help to build trust. Mirroring body language, the actual words your clients use, or their speech patterns and energy can help you and your client feel like you’re a team. Rule of thumb: mirror about 50-60% of someone’s physical or behavior. Any more than that will feel unnatural and artificial.
  • Always remember to be empathetic. When met with objections, resistance, or reluctance, don’t take it personally! Remember to lead with empathy - instead of getting frustrated, put yourself in your clients’ shoes and think about why they’re resistant. Do they doubt that the strategy you proposed will be effective? Back up your claims with data that they’ll find meaningful! Are they concerned about the bandwidth required to execute the strategy? Dig into their concerns, make them feel heard, and be prepared to pivot or compromise if needed. 

Rapport Building Challenges

Building a genuine rapport with someone doesn’t happen overnight and can come with a slew of challenges. 

  • It’s hard to build rapport remotely: The easiest way to build rapport with someone is to spend time with them, but that’s challenging when all of your interactions are over Zoom. So try your best to eliminate issues that can interfere with communication. Ensure that you have a strong internet connection so that communications aren’t interrupted. Get a good mic and webcam (and some good lighting) to make sure that everyone can see and hear you clearly. And keep your eyes on your clients instead of multitasking or staring at your own face.

  • Some people are just difficult: It’s a fact that some people aren’t easy to get along with. When a client is difficult, negative, withholding, or temperamental, just remember to lead with empathy. Try focusing on one or two positive things about the person, or look for common ground between the two of you. And remember that you never know what someone is going through. If a client is more gruff or distant than usual, don’t take it personally.

  • “Help, I’m shy/awkward/introverted” Like most things, building rapport takes time and practice. Not everyone is going to be good at it right away, but there are things that you can do to make it easier. If it helps, print out these tips and keep them somewhere visible so that you don’t forget. And after every interaction (especially an imperfect one), ask yourself: “How could I have changed that interaction to get a different or better outcome?” By taking responsibility, we take control of the situation and prepare ourselves for a better interaction next time.

In conclusion, building rapport is an essential consulting skill that can make a significant difference in a consultant's ability to deliver outstanding results. It can help establish trust, promote open communication, and foster strong working relationships with clients, ultimately leading to successful engagements and long-term partnerships.


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