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  • Toby Sinclair

Book Summary: Rapport by Emily Alison and Laurence Alison

Updated: Jul 13, 2021

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⭐ Toby's Rating: 6/10 - Recommended For: Coaches and Managers

Rapport is a book that we hope provides something for everyone. Whether seeking to make a new connection or to deepen an existing one, our hope is that it will help you build rapport. With this book, we set the bar for interpersonal skill and we challenge everyone, including ourselves, to uphold these principles with our loved ones and in our communities – both real and virtual.

- Emily and Laurence Alison

3 Big Ideas 💡

  • There are four cornerstones of Rapport: honesty, empathy, autonomy, reflection

  • The most effective rapport building behaviour to master is the art of allowing others to be in control. To seemingly take a back seat as events happen around you, and the ability to be humble.

  • Rapport is all about maintaining respect, dignity and compassion for others, regardless of how they are behaving towards you.

2 Most Tweetable Quotes 💬

Rapport requires a solid and versatile set of interpersonal skills as well as the ability to empathise and adapt.
Being able to put listening and seeking understanding of others before your own desire to be heard is the most simple but significant step you can take towards building rapport.

Rapport Quote

1 Top Takeaway

Your ability to build rapport can help you lead better. The leaders who are able to build meaningful relationships quickly often succeed. This could be with team members, stakeholders, customers and managers.

Rapport is a commonly used word that is misunderstood. This book provided a great practical definition of the skills you can develop.

It was no surprise that the skills of building rapport and coaching are very similar. This is because both rely on human relationships and connections to succeed.


Big Ideas Expanded 💡

What is Rapport?

Rapport is the ability to form meaningful connections with people quickly.

When you form that connection with someone, it becomes harder for them to attack you and, indeed, harder for them to argue with you or even to lie to you. This is because genuine rapport is about building an authentic connection with someone, not deploying a short-term parlour trick that wears off once you leave the room.

Rapport requires a solid and versatile set of interpersonal skills as well as the ability to empathise and adapt. Most challenging of all, it requires investing your effort into listening to and understanding others rather than being focused on your own agenda or point of view.

Being able to put listening and seeking understanding of others before your own desire to be heard is the most simple but significant step you can take towards building rapport.

Four cornerstones of rapport (HEAR):

  • Honesty: be objective and direct when communicating your intentions or feelings.

  • Empathy: understand someone based on recognition of their core beliefs and values.

  • Autonomy: emphasise other people’s free will and right to choose whether to cooperate.

  • Reflection: identify and repeat back those elements that are significant, meaningful and tactical to help guide a conversation towards the goal.

No matter how the other person is behaving, always try to stick to the HEAR principles. They are the steady platform on which all other rapport strategies are built.

Four fundamental styles of communication.

  • T-Rex. How to manage confrontation: when you argue or challenge, be frank and forthright. Do not be attacking, sarcastic and punitive.

  • Mouse. How to capitulate: when you need to concede or show deference, demonstrate humility and patience. But avoid weakness and uncertainty.

  • Lion. How to establish control: good leaders are clear, in charge, set the agenda and support others. They are not demanding, dogmatic and pedantic.

  • Monkey. How to build cooperation: when you want to create connection, show warmth, concern and togetherness. But be careful of drifting into overfamiliarity and inappropriate intimacy.

Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues. – Confucius

Of all the rapport-based behaviours we have discussed, it may surprise many that the most significant impact on others can be achieved by mastering the art of being a good Mouse – the art of allowing others to be in control, to seemingly take a back seat as events happen around you, and the ability to be humble. In Western cultures, we immediately associate giving way to others as a weakness.

Rapport Quote Humble

Handling Difficult Conversations

Its not the hearing that improves life but the listening

Mihaly Csikzentmihaly

But what about when the person you’re dealing with is filled with emotion? How can you deliver the bottom-line message then they are too upset to listen?

Acknowledging the other person’s emotional state with empathy and honesty immediately lowers reactance and allows the other person to hear what you are trying to say. You can’t cut straight to the message without first managing the emotion.

When someone in a team presents a clear alternative perspective and is prepared to disagree, it encourages other members of a team to think more deeply about a problem and explore solutions they otherwise would not have thought about.

Our advice is to be as direct and honest as possible whenever possible. But there is a balance – we do not want to be avoidant or hesitant but we also do not want to be too blunt. When we say to be honest, we are not talking about brutal honesty that stings, but a genuineness and directness that gives a clear message.

Rapport Cornerstones


1. Avoid being deceitful or dishonest to gain influence over others.

2. Be direct and clear with the message.

3. Control your emotions so the message can be heard.


Empathy, like rapport, is an oft-used word but one that is frequently misunderstood. Many people think of it as showing compassion or warmth towards another person, thereby confusing it with sympathy. Empathy, however, is about trying to genuinely understand what a person is thinking and feeling.

Stage 1 - Know Yourself

Being able to connect with and describe what you were thinking or feeling when something happened to you (‘I felt scared’, ‘I thought “this isn’t fair”’, ‘I felt worried you wouldn’t like me any more’).

Stage 2 - In your shoes

Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagine how you might feel if something that happened to someone else, happened to you.

Stage 3 - In your head

Putting yourself in other people’s shoes sounds like an effective way of relating to others’ emotional experience and it can certainly be powerful, but to move on to Stage 3 of empathy you need to be able to put yourself in their head.


The reason we struggle to change our behaviour simply based on well-meaning advice or clear instruction is that it doesn’t connect with our internal drives – our core values and beliefs – which would help motivate us to change our behaviour. In order for us to change, we need to feel that that change is in line with our core values and beliefs.

When we attempt to pressure, intimidate or threaten someone in order to get them to bend to our will, we end up inducing what psychologists call ‘reactance’. Reactance, first labelled as such by social psychologist Jack Brehm in the sixties, is our response to a perceived threat to our behavioural freedom.19 It occurs when a person feels they are being controlled or constrained, often by authority or regulations.

  • If you are feeling trapped or controlled by a situation, look for ways to exercise choice, even if they are small things.

  • Recognise other people’s need for independence and choice and endeavour to respect this wherever possible.

  • Even when there are high stakes, try to start from a position of choice

  • Even in situations where the only choice is between the devil and the deep blue sea, we want to be allowed to choose which way we jump.


Reflection is repeating back in part or in paraphrase what someone has said to you. When you use reflection, all you are really doing is inviting the other person to expand and add more by ‘sending’ out the keywords, feelings or values that you’ve just heard them say.

  • Appreciate the value of values. Reflection can help you to uncover the deeper core values and beliefs that are actually underlying people’s motives and behaviour.

  • Avoid the ‘righting reflex. When we hear someone explaining why they can’t control their eating, smoking or drinking habits, or indeed asking for advice on whatever topic, the immediate temptation is to offer advice or criticism.

  • The most critical element of reflection is to listen carefully to what is being said and reflect back on the most relevant point to build on and move the conversation forward. That way you will develop a more detailed understanding of how people really feel.


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