Rapport – what is it really all about?

Julian O’Dell
Julian O’Dell

It is now mission critical to outperform your competitors in crafting higher level relationships with clients. This will ensure more business is secured, long term connections are established and that recommendations, referrals and repeat business are inevitable. Estate agency remains a people business rather than simply a transactional one.

Rapport is at the hub of those relationships. The old principle holds true – ‘people buy people’ or perhaps the fuller ‘people buy people who communicate effectively and create genuine rapport’ is the better version.

The word ‘rapport’ is regularly tossed around, yet there is often confusion about what it means. It isn’t simply about being nice to people!

People come from all walks of life – diverse backgrounds, situations and views. Similar scenarios are seen totally differently by different people. To some people, a weekend in London is an exciting, vibrant experience. To others, central London is a noisy, dirty, scary place – the geography is identical – it is the individuals’ opinions and feelings that are different.

This is because we all have a different perspective, or ‘map of the world’. Each person’s ‘map’ consists of knowledge, experience, attitudes, beliefs and opinions. It is unsurprising that natural rapport is rare given how different we all are and how our ‘map’ is unlikely to match anyone else’s.

So, a sensible start to improving in this area is to accept the concept of ‘maps of the world’ and recognise that each of their prospective clients and customers has a different one.

Active listening and giving full attention to the speaker are two essential elements in sales.

If a salesperson can see a customer’s ‘map’ more clearly, he or she can shift themselves towards it. This doesn’t mean necessarily compromising or changing their own views (although that may be a natural consequence), but rather that they look to ‘match’ with them in terms of voice, vocabulary, pace, tone and so forth. ‘Matching’ is a key element in building trust and rapport.

Matching means being ‘in tune’ with the person we are communicating with. One way of helping achieve rapport, so that the other person can feel more comfortable in our presence, is to adopt aspects of their behaviour, such as particular body language, gestures, tone of voice or particular words and phrases.

In everyday life, people tend to do this naturally. When with others, you might suddenly notice that you and the person you’re with have adopted the same posture. Or at a social occasion you might notice that people who are getting on well together lift their glasses to drink at the same time. These are natural signs of being in tune, in rapport with each other.

Beyond ‘matching’, rapport building comprises a number of skills – commonly described as ‘soft skills’. These include effective questioning and active listening.

The first skill – effective questioning – involves an array of question types to be employed in particular circumstances.

The most effective questions to accelerate the building of rapport are ‘open’ and ‘scenario’ questions. Both encourage the speaker to speak – obvious as it sounds, it’s not always a goal achieved by salespeople – particularly those who prefer the sound of their own voice.

An open question like, “How are getting on with finding a property?” is far better than “Have you found a property yet?” as it encourages the customer to elaborate. “What is the absolute latest you need to move?” is significantly more effective than “Are you in a hurry to move?”

Scenario questions are great to start to understand their ‘map of the world’; “What would happen if you hadn’t moved by that date?” or, “What will you do if you don’t achieve your asking price?” or “What will you do if you can’t find a detached property within your budget?”

These start to really delve into the mindset of your clients and move towards their map of the world.

The second skill – active listening – is an essential ingredient of effective selling. We have all heard the phrase “two ears, one mouth: use them in proportion”, but many salespeople are too busy formulating their next question to be adept at listening to their customer.

Active listening includes several elements. Giving full attention to the speaker is essential. Verbal and non-verbal messages can be effective – maintaining eye contact, nodding your head, smiling, agreeing “Yes” or simply “Uh huh” to encourage them to continue. The use of summaries, to check understanding and prove you have listened, also forms a key part in active listening.

Combine all these techniques and you will move to the next level in your sales techniques – the time you invest in helping improving your rapport building with clients and customers may well be the best investment you make in 2022.

Julian O’Dell is head of Marvellous Training Solutions.


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  1. AndSotheStoryBegan

    Not content with encouraging competition in transactions, it would now seem to be “mission critical” in relationships.

    Rarely have I seen such misguided advice – the gist of which is to “shift themselves towards a customer map – looking to match with them in terms of voice, vocabulary, pace, tone & so forth. Matching, being a key element in building trust & rapport.”

    It’s backward- looking, first heard decades ago from Tony Robbins, and what it does is to simply reinforce the inauthentic sales stereotype – trying to be everything to everybody. People look for authentic, transparent and vulnerable, not for some slick salesperson trying to mirror their mannerisms.

    It’s impossible to appeal to everyone – but that doesn’t stop trainers encouraging this disingenuous practice.

    Rapport builds when we find affinity with others. Not when we seek to manipulate, to hide away the real version of ourselves and to deceive.

    Be yourself – you have more value that way and you find better clients.


    1. Robert_May

      There are quite a lot of people on the planet, either by nature or by nurture they’re all a bit different so these articles aren’t about taking a  stock item salesperson and polishing them up, its making  those who have not come across tried and tested, historical  basics, aware of stuff we’ve come across before.  
      There’s  a fair turnover of  junior level staff, its similar to the process of sheding skin to make dust, its constant with new starters coming from different backgrounds with different levels of education, experience, personal awareness and empathy of others.  
      A reminder doesn’t harm any of us but for new starters articles like this can turn struggle into success.  
      I would much rather see this quality content than the stuff that’s not fit for a professional  and industry experienced audience simply because the numbers are wrong and therefore the conclusions and opinions are wrong

      1. AndSotheStoryBegan

        The issue becomes, Robert, whether the advice is strategically correct. I believe very firmly that if an agent chooses to be inauthentic (which this advice suggests), then potential clients can see through the duplicity. It matters not whether the advice is given to new recruits or seasoned hands, it has to deliver the result of trust.

        Hiding behind a fake persona doesn’t instill trust. Trust is derived from transparency, the polar opposite of this advice.


        1. Robert_May

          It might be  splitting hairs  but  adjusting authenticity to suit the audience is what most people do, that isn’t being false or inauthentic; its understanding the importance of empathy.


  2. Ableagenttrainer

    In training – I often ask the question – would you rater be Liked OR described as Professional?

    In most cases people choose to be liked.

    However in reality I don’t need to “like” my estate agent BUT I do need to trust their professional advice. So in rapport – it always has to centre around the customer’s situation and my ability to offer the most appropriate advice and be seen as an expert.

    1. AndSotheStoryBegan

      “I don’t need to like my estate agent BUT I do need to trust their professional advice.”

      Here’s the problem with that: vendors aren’t qualified to make that judgement and so they don’t. Being seen as the ‘expert’ is poor advice.  Everyone can make that claim. Just look at the useless agents employed by the former eMoov and Purplebricks.  Competence ,if it can be proven, delivers respect. Character (being liked) delivers trust. The agency that is trusted will be more successful.

      The difficulty for agency trainers is that they can’t teach character, so they have to resort to teaching competence. Which is why we end up with an industry full of ‘experts’ that aren’t trusted.

      1. aSalesAgent

        We won an instruction only last week because our valuer gave the homeowner advice they had not received from the two agents that went in before us. There’s truth in the claim that sellers gravitate towards the agent who gives the right, professional advice.

      2. aSalesAgent

        Having said that – wearing my ‘homeowner hat’ – I wouldn’t choose an agent/agency that I dislike or couldn’t get along with. After all, there would be good reason for why, and would likely be the case for prospective buyers.

  3. Woodentop

    Its not one sided and certainly not ‘what the customer wants’ is most important approach ………


    A close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.


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