Stop Building Rapport and Start Listening and Connecting

Rapport in its purest form is manipulative. People who feel manipulated will be distrustful of your motivations, no matter how pure, and will never feel connected to you.

Jeb Blount
3-minute read

John, a sales representative from Los Angeles wrote us with this question, “After my last ride-along with my sales manager, he told me that I needed to work on building better rapport with my prospect. Do you have any advice in this area?”

What is Rapport?

Rapport is a popular and ubiquitous concept in sales. A module on rapport is included in virtually every sales and leadership training course. You’ll find chapters on rapport in almost every sales book. Many thousands of books and seminars are dedicated exclusively to the concept of rapport. A search on Google for "how to build rapport" yields a million or so returns. Despite all of this, rapport is among the most misunderstood and misapplied concepts in business. Ask 10 salespeople to explain rapport and you’ll get 10 different answers. Few people really understand the concept of rapport.

Rapport is essentially being in sync with another person to the extent that you are able to influence their behavior. The rapport-building process is designed to develop common ground with another person through mirroring and matching body language, voice tone and speed, word patterns, eye movement, and even breathing. In time, according to the experts, when you truly have rapport with another, you have the ability to lead them and change their behavior patterns. 

The Problem with Rapport-Building

The problem with rapport is that it is just too hard and complex to get into sync with someone enough to influence their behaviors. 

Few sales professionals have the time or inclination to become experts in deciphering word patterns, eye movements, and facial expressions. Learning to effectively and discretely mirror and match people based on their communication style—audio, visual or kinesthetic— sounds really cool in a seminar, but it rarely succeeds consistently in real world business situations with real people. This results in rapport-building being awkward, cheesy, and manipulative. Making matters worse are the legions of salespeople who mistake small talk at the beginning of a sales call as rapport building. Taking their cue from misinformed sales trainers, they’ll make dumb comments about some random object in their prospect’s office as if that is enough to initiate a relationship. Far too many sales people just go through the motions to check "Build Rapport" off their sales-process list so they can get down to selling.