How To Build Rapport With Clients

Building rapport with your clients is one of the most important counseling skills to possess. Did you know that approximately 40% of client change is due to the quality of the counseling relationship?

It’s no secret that we must get clients to trust us and feel comfortable in the counseling room. If we don’t, then clients won’t share important details with us, won’t trust what we say, and in general won’t participate in the counseling process in the way that we need them to. But how do we build this rapport? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Use your active listening skills to understand the client and their story. Before you make any attempt at an intervention, demonstrate to the client that you understand where they are coming from. It may sound silly, but I actually visualize myself really tiny inside of their head. That seems to help me enter their world.
  2. Watch your speed. Your speed of intimacy, that is. Depending on the client’s culture, background, personality, etc., it may take longer to build the trust required to discuss more personal and sensitive issues. In order to assess the trust level, pay attention to both the content of what the client is sharing (some clients will only share surface-level details at first) and the client’s body language, as they will be important indicators of how much the client is ready to share. It is important to be aware of these non-verbal signals because not all clients will clearly verbalize their discomfort.
  3. Small successes first. Before delving into their biggest problem, try giving helpful information, positive feedback or encouragement. You may even try an intervention on a smaller problem early on in the process. But at this stage only attempt those problems you are reasonably confident you can address successfully. This will help the client build confidence in you.
  4. Treat the client with respect. This may seem obvious, but from your very first contact treat the client as an important person. Return calls promptly, start sessions on time, dress professionally, have paperwork ready for them, etc. Respect their time as much as you do your own. (Which you should, or we need to be having a different type of conversation). Imagine how you would like to be treated as a client, and adjust your behavior accordingly.
  5. Match styles. Watch your client and become aware of their communication style. A wise teacher once said that as counselors we were like tuning forks. Our jobs were to get the client to come closer to wellness, or normalcy (to be “in tune”). So, we should try to match our clients’ communication rhythm but stay a little bit to the center. So for hyperactive clients, we stay on the calm side of hyperactive. Often the client will mirror our style, and thus begin to calm down.
  6. Be competent. It should seem obvious, but probably the best way to destroy a counseling relationship is to be incompetent. The client isn’t going to trust you if you don’t know what you are doing. Ensure you have proper training and experience before tackling the client’s issue. Be forthright with the client about how much experience you have as soon as the client first mentions their issue, preferably during the first phone contact. Let the client decide if they want you or not. It’s really their decision, not yours.
  7. Self disclosure. Disclosing personal information is also another way to build rapport. But be careful with this one. Too much disclosure, done too early and for the wrong reasons can easily backfire. For more information, please see the post on the skill of self-disclosure.
  8. Remember, the counseling relationship is really the most important factor in the room. It matters more than the theory and interventions you use.

    Yours in the Joy of Knowledge,

    Barbara LoFrisco