Make us your home page

Listening is key to building rapport

"Rapport" means harmonious accord, or a special connection between two people — something a lot of doctors, lawyers, business leaders and other professionals wish they had more of when talking to clients or patients. Although it may seem like the random result of interpersonal chemistry, rapport doesn't just happen. It can be created by almost anyone who learns the recipe.

Show that you're listening.

The Greek philosopher Epicetus wrote, "Nature has given man one tongue but two ears, that we may hear twice as much as we speak." We think of learning to communicate better as being about talking. In fact, it's more often about listening well. There are several ways to show you're listening.

Pause before you respond.

This tells the other person he or she is saying something important that merits your attention — and deserves a thoughtful reply. There's also a practical benefit. Showing clients that you have heard them will lessen their need to repeat themselves, and the conversation is often shorter and more productive.

Don't formulate a response while the other is talking.

During conversations, we are often our main audience — or, as has been said, we "deliver monologues in the presence of witnesses." And when we're not talking aloud, we're plotting what to say when our time comes to speak. When we do that, we're not listening.

It's okay to have to search for the right words when it's your turn to talk. The strug­gle for words comes from having immersed yourself in the other's words.

Use some of your listener's words.

A time-tested way to build rapport is to borrow words and phrases from the speaker. It can give confidence to a hesitant, nervous client or patient, or disarm a defensive one, and show you heard what they said. What's more, someone who uses phrases like, "Let me see if I understand" may be a visual thinker, while someone who says "What I hear you saying is . . ." may be more focused on auditory cues. Try to rein­force the listener's thinking style in words you choose.

Make your listener the subject of some of your sentences.

The most important word you can use in a conversation with a client or patient is "you." For example, instead of saying, "I know you must be wondering about that," say, "You must be wondering about that." Put your listener first and yourself second — if at all.

Reflect, don't deflect, emotion.

Professionals may be very good at analyzing information, but they often shy away from emotional currents. If someone tells you they're upset, don't switch the conversation back to the information channel. Follow the emotion. It's often the best route to rapport.

Try to avoid verbal interruptions.

There are situations when people love to be interrupted — but only if you're asking them to clarify or elaborate on what they're saying. Otherwise, try to avoid verbal interruptions. If you must interrupt a rambling speaking, try body language first. Raising a finger, slightly opening your mouth can often achieve the same result as a verbal interruption. And it does it gracefully without damaging rapport.

Use simple words of Germanic rather than Latin origin.

Highly educated professionals tend to use words derived from Latin, while most people use words of Germanic origin. That's one reason a physician might say, "The individual received multiple contusions and fractures in the automobile accident." But most of us would say, "The boy got many bruises and broken bones in the car crash."

In centuries past, Latin was the language of high culture, while the peasantry of England spoke Germanic. Professionals, often unawares, use more complicated Latin terms because to this day these words connote higher social status. But it comes at a big price. It makes them seem more remote and hard to understand.

Use phrasing that invites dialogue rather than discourages questions or disagreement.

For example, a dentist who tells a patient, "It's obvious you need a root canal" is daring the patient to disagree. Saying, "You need a root canal" does not imply any judgment on a patient who asks why. Other mute-button words and phrases, depending on how they are used, include Of course, As you know, I'm sure you'll understand and It goes without saying.

Beware of the wily "we."

Depending on the tone and context, "we" can be inclusive or exclusive. The inclusive we means you and me, as in "Why don't we sit down and work out this problem together." The exclusionary we means my professional colleagues and I but not you — as in, "We believe inflation will increase in the next quarter." The exclusionary we cools a conversation and can come across as authoritarian. If you don't believe it, imagine how you would feel if a client, responding to something you said, replied, "We tend not to agree with your assessment."

Mark Jerome Walters, D.V.M., is the author of "Communication Skills for Medical Professionals" and teaches the online course Communication Skills for the Health Professions at University of South Florida St. Petersburg:

Listening is key to building rapport 06/04/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 4, 2011 4:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Record $417 million awarded in lawsuit linking baby powder to cancer


    LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles jury on Monday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a record $417 million to a hospitalized woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene.

    A bottle of Johnson's baby powder is displayed. On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, a Los Angeles County Superior Court spokeswoman confirmed that a jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million in a case to a woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene. [Associated Press]
  2. Superior Uniform acquires Los Angeles-based PublicIdentity


    SEMINOLE — A subsidiary of Seminole-based Superior Uniform Group has acquired Los Angeles-based branded merchandise company PublicIdentity Inc.

    Superior Uniform Group CEO Michael Benstock
[Courtesy of Superior Uniform Group]
  3. FBI warns of spreading W-2 email theft scheme

    Personal Finance

    The IRS is warning businesses about a sharp increase in email phishing scams involving employees' W-2 forms — scams that can put staffers' Social Security numbers and other critical information in the hands of thieves.

    The IRS is warning businesses about a sharp increase in email phishing scams involving employees' W-2 forms.
[McClatchy DC/TNS file photo]
  4. Walmart expands grocery delivery service in Florida markets


    TAMPA — Walmart is formally launching its grocery delivery service in Tampa, the company announced Monday, as it expands its delivery test into Orlando and Dallas. Five locations around Tampa are offering delivery for online grocery orders.

    Walmart is expanding its grocery delivery to Tampa, the company announced Monday. | [Times file photo]
  5. Marina at Hudson Beach poised to become 24-unit condominium-hotel


    HUDSON — One of the mainstay businesses at Hudson Beach is poised for redevelopment into a 24-unit condominium-hotel.

    The owners of Skeleton Key Marina in Hudson have filed preliminary plans with Pasco County to redevelop the site into a 24-unit condominium-hotel.