How to Have Less Awkward Conversations: Assuming Rapport

by Henrik Edberg

How to Have Less Awkward Conversations: Assuming Rapport
Image by kalandrakas.

Assuming rapport. This is definitely one of the best social skill tips I have ever learned about. Unfortunately I’ve forgotten a bit about it lately. Maybe you have too. Or missed it altogether. So I thought I’d bring it up again.

Now, what is assuming rapport?

Basically, instead of going into a conversation or meeting nervously and thinking “how will this go?” you take different approach. You assume that you and the person(s) will establish a good connection (rapport).

How do you do that? You simply pretend that you are meeting one of your best friends. Then you start the interaction in that frame of mind instead of the nervous one.

I have found that this advice is surprisingly useful and easy to implement.

Just before the meeting, you just think that you’ll be meeting a good friend. Then you’ll naturally slip into a more comfortable, confident and enjoyable emotional state and frame of mind.

This also helps you and the other people to set a good frame for the interaction. A frame is always set in the at the start of an interaction. It might be a nervous and stiff frame, a formal and let’s-get-to-the-point kind of frame or perhaps a super relaxed one. The thing is that the frame that is set in the beginning of the conversation is often one that may stay on for a while. First impressions last.

If it’s a very stiff frame then it may very well continue to be so until the end. It can be quite difficult to for instance change that frame into a more relaxed one. Often people – you and the others – adapt to the frame that is set and interact within it. Breaking or changing that frame may feel uncomfortable or a bit weird. And so you and the others can become reluctant to do so and instead just play along.

First impressions last
So setting a good frame at the very beginning can bring more enjoyment and better results out of any kind of meeting. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so useful to smile when you first meet someone. And it’s also important to consider that the impression made and frame set may not just last during the first conversation. It may continue throughout your relationship with this new friend, classmate or co-worker.

Now, meeting your best friend might not always be the best thing to think about before a meeting. If it’s a meeting at work or in school then you may need to have use a more formal frame (for instance without hugs and the relaxed attitude you have with friends). In that case you may want to try to imagine a similar meeting that went well and your interactions with the people there.

If you go into a conversation with the right frame of mind a lot of the problems you may have encountered before or created outside and inside your mind just never come up. Much of communication is non-verbal and can be difficult to manually correct in a conversation. But when you go in with a positive and relaxed energy then that is fed into the interaction by you using your non-verbal communication – like your voice tonality and body language – in good way.

Just be yourself
When you’re with your friend you don’t think about what you should say next or what funny comment you could pull out of your sleeve. You just stay in the present moment, moment by moment, and the conversation flows easily and naturally.

I think this is what some people mean when they give the often confusing advice to “just be yourself”. When your friends give you that advice then they may mean that you should be “like you are when you are hanging out with us”. They want to see you bring out your natural and relaxed self in other interactions.

One final useful thing about assuming rapport is that you may also start to feel positive feelings towards this new person, just as you do with your friend when you meet him/her. This is a pretty good starting point for getting the new person to reciprocate and for developing a good relationship.

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Jeff December 11, 2007 at 6:43 pm

Great post – This is great advise for anyone who wants to be a better conversationalist.


Joaquin December 11, 2007 at 8:08 pm

I liked your article. Actually, I learned to build rapport this way before, but my problem is that somehow I can not establish a good friendship. Do you have any suggestions?

Never the Same River Twice December 11, 2007 at 9:06 pm

In reflecting on your post I realize that I sometimes do this without even being aware of it. If I am relaxed and confident in the task I have to accomplish in a meeting, it goes well 99% of the time. If I’m uptight, unprepared, or stressed about something, the meeting is usually pretty difficult.

This is a great technique to try consciously, maybe by first creating a confident state using tapping or NLP techniques.

Seeker December 12, 2007 at 12:17 am

Very good insight. It is true that when we expect to have a good rapport, we will have a good rapport. In addition, if we have love in our heart for any person we are meeting, we will definitely get along well, and there will be no uncomfort.


My Positivity Blog

Kate Saltfleet December 12, 2007 at 11:19 am

I think we all seek to create rapport with others, but our social conditioning puts all kinds of barriers in the way for us.

Your article reminded me of this article I read on the BBC website a few days ago – surey the universal popularity of this person shows that deep down we all just want acceptance.

Henrik Edberg December 13, 2007 at 12:30 am

Thanks for all the great comments, guys.

Joaquin: I don’t know what your specific problem is but one problem I think is quite common is to not bring enough value yourself to the table. It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing too much attention on yourself and not listening enough or opening up and sharing. Then it can be hard to build a good connection.

But I don’t know what your specific problem is so I’d recommend that you perhaps do some reading and try to find and identify a solution yourself. A good starting point is How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie. You can probably find it in your local library or bookstore.

Jose Sotelo December 14, 2007 at 10:49 pm

Great answer to the suggestions, “just be yourself”

Naomi December 16, 2007 at 1:15 pm

I find this helps me a lot on the phone too. I try to smile while I’m dialing the number or when I answer the phone. It really helps set the tone of the conversation later.

Personal Development for the Book Smart December 17, 2007 at 9:37 am

Naomi, I agree… Yes, your emotions and energy will subconsciously be transferred to the other party on the phone!

SJ Yee
Personal Development for the Book Smart

Locutus December 17, 2007 at 11:38 am

There is some good advice in this article. Unfortunately “being yourself” is usually the problem and not the solution. How many people aren’t like this:
- I hate smalltalk
- I don’t want to meet, let alone like this person
- I just want to get this over as quick as possible
- What’s with all that noise coming out of your mouth?

If the above describes “being yourself”, being yourself is not gonna cut it.

Kris Hughes December 19, 2007 at 11:24 pm

Nice article.

Expecting a good response from the other person. The other person usually has a natural instinct to reciprocate.

Dave Fraser December 21, 2007 at 8:30 pm

Makes a lot of sense to me.

Good relationships are good business.

Just-In-Here December 21, 2007 at 8:53 pm

Great article! Thanks for the great tips :)

gumshoe December 22, 2007 at 1:50 am

Good article. You’ve got a paragraph repeated twice though :-)

Eliot December 22, 2007 at 9:42 am

Henrik I liked the post. It’s good you mentioned professional settings as well. I could see using this technique in job interviews to help people feel more relaxed and be more effective.


Sarah December 22, 2007 at 11:13 am

This is good advice. In addition to making the interaction go well for the person you’re with, it’s more enjoyable for yourself to feel relaxed, even if it is based on a mental “trick”. It can be hard for introverts to enjoy the company of new people; it is helpful to remind oneself that company can be relaxing instead of stressful!

Henrik Edberg December 22, 2007 at 11:39 am

Thanks for the heads up, Gumshoe. I’ve fixed it now. :)

Mary Jaksch December 22, 2007 at 1:03 pm

This is a lovely post! Rapport is such an important aspect of communication. There are tricks on can learn, such as to keep posture similar etc. But true rapport is a function of empathy, that is, the ability to walk in the shoes of others.

Jody December 23, 2007 at 11:07 am

This is advice that I practise as well… i.e. assuming rapport… I find that it is common for people to get suspicious though even though my intent is in no way corrupt… It is interesting how people respond when one “assumes rapport”, especially in different contexts… alot assume the worst e.g. “what does this guy want?” or they have brought into a “reputation” or something… I am an eager learner though…

screaminscott December 24, 2007 at 1:02 am


I agree with you.

shyguy December 28, 2007 at 7:37 am

This doesn’t work.

Rahul Singh January 1, 2008 at 3:17 pm

Hinrik sir;
U said that the first expressions last and also one needs to be them selves.
So could you suggest me ways in which one could undo the wrong persona which is created to someone else on the first incidence of the meeting in which you acted in your negative side or you may say that your natural behavior at that instance was inappropriate for your friends…..

Todd Schultz February 16, 2008 at 1:02 am

I Hate awkward convos.

This is good advice,

but i’ve got some too

Paul April 3, 2008 at 5:54 pm

I meet people constantly (sales) who use this approach and frankly it turns me off and appears phony. I’d much rather accept someones awkwardness than someone trying to be my friend.

Noroze khan September 26, 2008 at 8:40 am

its helps me a lot
to develop my relations
more strong and successful
i like this article.

Thai Massage Boulder January 4, 2009 at 9:18 am

Great Post! It’s amazing what a smile can do. It’s so simple, yet so often forgotten.

L February 19, 2009 at 11:32 pm


harold March 21, 2009 at 4:56 am

Well I personally think that this makes it less awkward for conversation.

qwerty May 28, 2009 at 3:21 am

To add my two cents for shy people:
It’s okay, not everyone is a natural conversationist.The key to overcoming it is practice.When you meet a stranger for a first time and know you won’t ever see them again, you can try to practice on them. This way, even if you make a bad impression, it doesn’t really matter and you can learn from experience.You’ll get better at it after a while, and your confidence will grow.
Some topics to get your conversations started are maybe about the weather, current issues, school, almost anything, as long as you stay away from sensitive topics. Remember, a conversation isn’t only about you, it involves two people. Make sure you’re paying attention to what they say back and reacting at what they say at the right times. Good luck!

boastock May 28, 2009 at 3:25 am

Great article, but there’s one thing I don’t get.
What if when you’re with friends you do have to think how to bee funny and what to say next, and it doesn’t just flow naturally?

orange peels banana June 20, 2009 at 10:10 pm

This is indeed a good article. Oddly enough, just last night I was talking to an acquaintance of mine that I would like to become better friends with, but felt myself start to think about what I should say next, or if I even had anything good to say that wasn’t completely forced. Then in a split second decision I just decided to act like I had known her for years. It worked well. Very well.
I do have one criticism of the article. It may seem petty, but some typos and the punctuation (or lack there of) made it difficult to read at points. A bit of proofreading can go a long way! Thanks.

Alex June 30, 2009 at 7:42 am

I hope this works I am meeting up with this girl that I really really like and I want to make a very relaxed and good impression on her I plan on trying to use this tecneque tommorow

Justine July 1, 2009 at 9:48 pm

Good article; however, should be “How to Have *Fewer* Awkward Conversations.” “Less” is for something you can’t count, like “I have less milk in my glass than I had five minutes ago.” “Fewer” is when you can count it; “There are fewer cards in this deck than there should be.”

Unless you mean “How to Have Conversations that Are, On Average, Less Awkward Than I Was Once Accustomed To.” In which case you’re fine.

Mishu July 23, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Good article. Specially i support your point where u try to say, people need to be in comfortable mood before any serious meeting or conversation. Otherwise everything may go wrong.
Thanks for your article.

F. D. A. August 9, 2009 at 11:32 pm

Aside from your continuous grammar mistakes (and some spelling errors here and there), I don’t like the way you present this post. I’ve read your other posts and they present a clear order of how to perform the advice you give.

It seems rather difficult to “simply pretend that you are meeting one of your best friends”. Human emotions go far beyond our thinking of them, to the point where a lack of trust in the other person will make it difficult to establish a fluent conversation.

I haven’t yet found a way to avoid awkward conversations, but I don’t think things like “[...] you just think that you’ll be meeting a good friend”, and “just be yourself” will get anyone anywhere. Just be yourself is one of the most overstated things that are easier said than done. The truth is most people go through life without paying attention to themselves and what they really feel and want, therefore not being themselves but a confluence of forces.

I really hope you read this. I leave not my e-mail for privacy.

B D G September 6, 2009 at 11:44 pm

But what if you have the problem of being awkward even with your friends? I have a problem where I do fine in a conversation until I think about awkwardness. Its irritating because conversation doesnt seem to last too long because it doesnt take long before I think about awkwardness. And then I run out of things to talk about. If Im not thinking about that its fine. How can I stop..?

Anonymous September 8, 2009 at 5:00 am

Do what you want.
And say what you will.
Because those who mind don’t matter.
And those who matter don’t mind. – Dr. Seuss

Chris Akins - ChrisAkins.Com January 12, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Great topic. Rapport is the key to good conversations and good relationships. In addition to the broad framework discussed in this post, there are a couple of specific ways to develop and increase rapport in a conversation almost immediately.

Specifically, duplicating (not mimicing) the other person’s body language, voice patterns, language, and other conversational habits sends the unconscious message that you are like him or her. Its important to remember that mimicing can be very detrimental, but matching is generally rapport building. The more naturally you can match the other person, the more effective the technique.

Showing genuine interest and empathy for what the other person is saying is also huge for short term rapport building. If you spend the entire conversation thinking of responses and focusing on yourself, rapport can be very difficult to build.

Long term or lasting rapport building is about developing trust, which is a much deeper topic in itself.

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