The Master Skill of Coaching: Building Rapport

The master skill of coaching is building rapport; without it all the other skills become increasingly redundant. In building rapport it is useful to think of a three step process: knowing you, liking you and finally trusting you. This is as true in coaching as it is in sales; for ultimately we are all into selling our ability to influence others.

Are you conscious of building rapport, especially when you meet new people or when working with a client? How do you build rapport? What steps do you take?


Start with the body: smile, introduce yourself and what you do, and then thank them for their time in speaking with you. That sets a scene for ‘knowing you’. Clearly, how you introduce yourself is critical: one has to think not about overloading people with ‘me’ statements and assertions designed to inflate one’s own importance; but, more significantly, to excite curiosity about you and what you do, or enable them to see how talking to you will benefit them. The principles of physically meeting somebody so that one can say one ‘knows’ them are also true online: we create a persona online and this too needs to be welcoming, warm and more about the client than the self.


For them – the client – then to like you there are five triggers which can increase liking. First, physical attractiveness, or what has been called the halo effect. We impute other virtues – mental, emotional, moral – to people we perceive as attractive. Attractiveness, however, is not something ‘fixed’, or that we are simply born with (or not!). Hence the importance of clothes, grooming, and conscious image-management. Second, similarity or likeness: we tend to like people more if we perceive they are like us. Some aspects of this – where we were born or educated – may be beyond our control, but things such as body language, voice tone and dress are quite malleable. Third, people like us more when we compliment them; not crudely, and not flattery, but when we genuinely notice and express appreciation for some aspect of them, their possessions, achievements or qualities. Fourth, we increase our likeability when we are familiar to the other person. Familiarity occurs when they are exposed to us and our name more frequently – through repetition, through co-operation; and when we think about it, this is exactly how we form friends: by spending more time in their company. And, to extend this further, it may be because they have read about us, or seen our website or blogs, and so on. Finally, we get to like others more if we can associate them with good experiences. This good experiences may be physical (we play golf together), intellectual (you make me think in new ways), or emotional (I find you very supportive). But ultimately we all prefer to be with people who give us good experiences, and these can be very simple things: like providing a good quality cup of coffee or tea when they visit you!

Which of these 5 triggers do you typically – whether consciously or otherwise – use to build rapport with people? Which, perhaps, might you use more of? How do you intend to improve your ability to build rapport over the next 12 months?


So, they know you, they like you, and critically to build true rapport they must trust you. All serious relationships are based on trust, and without trust no serious work or business (or relationship) can be done or function. The coach then must engender trust in the client. Trust builds over time; for everyone, until full trust is established, is always asking themselves, ‘Can I trust this person? Can I trust what they are saying to me? Is there some secret agenda?’

Trust comes about when we are consistent – we practise what we preach, we walk the talk, and we do what we say we are going to do on a repeated basis. Trust also comes about from first impressions: so we return to how we appear; and especially our body language and eye contact are critical. It is not a coincidence that in the English language we have words like ‘shifty’, which indicate somebody is not to be trusted, because people intuitively pick up on the fact that the body and the words are not consonant.

But finally, here, we come full circle, for the last, and perhaps critical, aspect of building trust – hence building rapport – leads directly on to our other core skill: questioning and listening. The listening component of the questioning skill is central to trust. Real listening is effectively an act of love. Nearly everyone experiences the sense that nobody is listening to them or taking them seriously; we all want to demand attention – and as children we get some from our parents, but probably not enough; and then from friends and teachers, but invariably we wonder, ‘Is anyone really listening?” Falling in love and having a partner is really that throw of the dice whereby we commit to someone – that special someone – who if nobody else does, is the one person who will listen to us. Of course, when that fails, it is extremely distressing and debilitating for the individual. They talk about ‘falling out of love’, but almost always, before they fell out of love, they were no longer listening. Bizarre as it sounds, to coach someone, really coach them, is to love them – and that truly builds rapport!

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