Being focused and present with your clients is a great start. But that just means you’re here.

If you really want to build successful client relationships, you have to go beyond just being present.

So, what’s next?

The next step is building a connection with your client, or rapport.


What is rapport?

Rapport is, by dictionary definition, a sympathetic, empathetic connection with another.

Now, what does sympathetic and empathetic mean?

It’s not intellectual or analytical. It doesn’t happen in the conscious mind.

The connection occurs viscerally, in the nervous system.

And guess what?

The fastest way to build rapport is by having something in common with the other person.

The importance of building rapport with clients.

Given how fast people make judgments, understanding the dynamics of communication is extremely valuable in building rapport with clients.

Communication and rapport.

In 1956, a UCLA professor named Albert Mehrabian studied communication in groups of one to four people.

He tested communication on the basis of words, body language, and tone of voice.

What do you think is the most impactful form of communication—words, voice, or body language?

Come up with a percentage for each of these elements of communication:

  • Words
  • Tone of Voice
  • Body Language

When I ask my groups this question, typically people think words make up 20 to 90 percent of impactful communication.

Mehrabian’s research showed that words represent just 7 percent of communication impact.

Tone of voice? Thirty-eight percent.

Body language is the most impactful, comprising 55 percent of all communication.

This gives us some clues as to how to establish rapport.

Seventy percent of judgments are being made in the first seven seconds. How many words can you really say in that time?

Very few. Finding commonality clearly relies on body language and tone of voice to establish early communication impact and rapport.

When speaking to groups, I’ll often say in a flat tone of voice, “I’m really happy to be here today with all of you,” then turn my back on them.

Is that good communication? Of course not. Everyone knows it immediately, and I’ll ask why.

After all, I used the right words.

My body language and tone of voice did not match my words. Those aspects, as we know from Mehrabian’s study, hold much more weight.

The keys to successful rapport come down to two critical factors:

1. Your ability to observe another.

This requires being present and focused on the other person.

If you’re in your own mind, fixated on your own issues, you can’t observe the other person’s body language and tone of voice.

2. Flexibility in your response.

Once you are able to find something in common with the other person, or to do what is called “matching and mirroring,” you can build rapport rapidly. (Check back soon if you’d like to learn more about matching and mirroring!)

When you develop competence in these skills, you can build commonality and connection in seconds, ultimately leading to more successful client relationships!

Do you want support with becoming the ultimate strategic business leader? Be sure to have a look at our resources for CIO leaders here.

To accelerating your success,


If you enjoyed this article, don’t miss these posts:

The Greatest Sources of Miscommunication in Client Relationships
How to Rebuild Trust as a Leader
Where CIOs and IT Need to Innovate Most

This post is an excerpt from the book The Ultimate Sales Revolution