By Anna Johansson • October 27, 2017•Careers
As a lawyer, your clients come to you in a vulnerable position. Whether they’ve been arrested, convicted, or are seeking justice, they’re emotional and sometimes unpredictable. They don’t know what the future holds, and they’re looking to you for clarity. Even though you’re there to help, it’s not uncommon for clients to become uncooperative, or even combative at times.
Even though your clients request your help, you still have to earn their trust in order to provide that help.
Building trust begins with rapport
How do you build rapport with someone who’s angry, scared, depressed, or manic? You have to work your way past their emotions, and into the core of what drives them – even if you don’t understand or agree. When you can effectively create rapport with any client, you’ll gain their trust faster.
What is rapport?
Rapport is the basis of effective communication. Building rapport helps you move swiftly through someone’s considerations, hesitations, and walls in virtually any interaction. Having rapport with someone puts you in a position to influence and teach, and they’re more likely to accept your ideas.
When your goal is to get client cooperation, you need to be a master at creating rapport.
MindTools.com explains rapport beautifully: “Rapport forms the basis of meaningful, close and harmonious relationships between people. It’s the sense of connection that you get when you meet someone you like and trust, and whose point of view you understand. It’s the bond that forms when you discover that you share one another’s values and priorities in life.”
From this explanation, it’s clear that rapport happens naturally. However, it’s not impossible to create it when you know how. To create stronger rapport with your clients, you only need to understand its two principles – and start putting them into action.
The two principles or rapport
- Being interested (not interesting) in the other person. Being interested in what your client has to say involves more than just listening. Listening is a passive activity; being interested is an active activity.
Rapport is created by being fully present with your client without “waiting to talk” or share your ideas before you’ve fully understood what they’ve shared. Being interested requires asking questions for clarification.
When faced with an emotional client, your goal is to get them to calm down and come back to their center. When they’re emotional, they need to be heard, even if what they share is nothing more than venting. They’ve probably spent a long time with pent-up emotions.
While it’s not your job to be their therapist, if you want to help them, you’ve got to get leverage wherever you can. When someone is emotional, listening is the best leverage. This demonstrates genuine concern for the other person.
- Being in sync with the other person. This principle takes some work, but it’s important. Being in sync with someone plays a major role in building rapport.
Have you ever been talking with a friend and noticed you crossed your legs right after they did? That’s the natural synchronicity of rapport.
To get in sync with an emotional client, gently and subtly imitate their body language, and match both their energy level and tone of voice.
If they’re whispering, speak softly. If they’re speaking harshly, you don’t need to raise your voice – just match their energy level. Be quick and short in delivering your words.
If they’re leaning forward with their elbows on the table, do the same. When they withdraw their arms from the table and sink back into their chair, wait a few seconds and follow suit (gently).
Shared experience creates the strongest rapport
Have you ever listened to a friend share a personal experience, and watched their eyes light up when you said, “me too?” That’s strong rapport.
Many lawyers choose to practice an area of law that has personally impacted their lives. That decision puts them in a prime position to create effortless rapport with their clients.
For example, inspired by his own full recovery from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) 25 years ago, Steven Benvenisti attended law school and committed his life to helping other TBI survivors. Brain injuries are serious and have a deep impact on the patient’s family and friends.
Imagine the rapport Benvenisti creates with his clients just because he’s been through the trauma other lawyers don’t understand.
It’s tough getting clients to listen sometimes, and even tougher getting them to trust your advice when it goes against their emotions. Start building rapport with them from the beginning. Cut through the barriers. They’ll sincerely thank you for it.