Building rapport

Rapport describes a positive relationship that forms between two or more persons. Once you have identified the possible barriers to effective communication and considered some strategies to overcome these, you can then look at how to build rapport with the client.

Establishing good rapport with others is an essential skill for community and disability service workers. It is particularly important when you are interviewing clients, as it allows free and open discussion and provides better outcomes.

Pay attention to the small things, like greeting people when you enter a room and saying goodbye when you leave. Consider cultural differences in greetings: for example, handshaking or direct eye contact may make some people uncomfortable. Making small talk may help a client relax before an interview.

Check that your client understands what you have discussed. Arrange for an interpreter if necessary. It is important that the client understands what services the agency provides, what statutory obligations they have and any processes to address grievances they may have.

Strategies for building good rapport include:

  • Being clear about your role and the purpose of the interaction.
  • Using a person's preferred name when speaking with them.
  • Paying attention to making them comfortable.
  • Using a pleasant tone that is clear and precise.
  • Explaining words and expressions that may be unfamiliar and not using jargon.
  • Asking simple and clear questions.
  • Explaining what you already know.
  • Explaining clearly any mandated position you have. For example, you may have to report to other authorities any disclosure of abuse.
  • Explaining the actions that are undertaken both during the interview and as a result of the interview.
  • Using age-appropriate language. Avoid jargon and use words familiar to the other person.
  • Conveying acceptance by showing interest and concern.
  • Being sincere and realistic in praise and goal-setting.
  • Not promising anything that cannot be delivered when the interview is over.

Demonstrating objectivity

Objectivity is essential in ensuring that personal bias does not inhibit communication. Strategies could include:

  • avoiding conversation topics where values and attitudes may conflict, e.g. politics
  • remembering that the communication is about meeting the client's needs, not yours
  • not taking a difference of opinion personally
  • using paraphrasing, reflection of feelings, and clarification techniques rather than offering your own opinion
  • remaining calm and predictable rather than responding impulsively to differences of opinion.

Assessing the level of acceptance and rapport

Be aware of the mood of the interview or interaction. For example, if your client is particularly anxious, you may need to take a break, introduce temporary changes in the topic, or allow a period of silence. If more than one person is conducting the interview, as some situations and policies direct, then it is a good idea to assign one person as an observer of non-verbal cues.

Signs to watch for include:

  • Sounds. Sounds like laughter, moaning, humming, crying and sighing can indicate to you how the client is coping with the information they are disclosing and help you in your assessments that follow.
  • Body language. The way a person is sitting, walking in, using their eyes, their hands, fidgeting, tapping their feet and so on are also good indicators to observe during the interview.
  • Cultural signs. Consider cultural differences when observing non-verbal cues. For example, people in some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities do not use eye contact during conversation as a form of respect.

If you are interviewing clients from different cultural backgrounds, consider asking a supervisor or other knowledgeable person about any cultural cues you should be aware of.

Case study: Determining communication needs

Read the case study below and answer the question that follows. Enter your response into the text box provided.

Your new client Toby is a young Indigenous Australian male from a remote community. He also has a hearing impairment. Your supervisor explains that Toby's previous caseworker was unable to engage him, and asks how you might adapt your interview technique to build a better relationship with Toby.

  • What areas of specific communication needs could apply to Toby?
  • How might you improve the communication process?


Workplace case study

Section 1 activities (Word Document 34KB)

Last modified: Wednesday, 5 December 2018, 3:57 PM