Your role is to create a purposeful relationship with a 50+ customer to help move them forward (into work, volunteering or training / education).
It helps if you can use rapport building skills to develop a good working relationship. Being in rapport with someone means being on the same wavelength and sharing a common understanding.
Rapport is a powerful tool to help engage and support your customer and achieve a positive outcome.
Creating rapport can help achieve an ease in communication, where your customer can speak freely and feel they are being listened to and acknowledged. Rapport can be broken down into three key areas that form the Rapport Triangle.
The Rapport Triangle
Whatever communication strategy you use to work with a customer, it will probably include listening, observing and questioning, as these come naturally to all of us when communicating.
By listening actively to your customer and showing interest in what they have to say, you will make them feel that they are being heard. This can also help the flow of conversation.
Case study: building rapport (WorkWise)
Dealing with hostility
This case study has been provided by an employability programme provider, specialising in working with unemployed people aged 50 and over.
Jack, 57, had worked in the EU for 20 years.
- He had formerly been a self employed builder
- He had worked in EU, running his own company
- He had returned to Britain two years previously and had not worked since
- His marriage had broken down and he was living in council accommodation
- There were some issues about his personal presentation skills (hygiene, etc)
- He was a very intelligent person who had lost a lot of personal control over his life
- He had been advised by his Jobcentre Plus adviser to come to WorkWise for help
Although we assured Jack that his attendance at WorkWise was voluntary, his behaviour throughout our initial meetings was very defensive, hostile and bordered on being aggressive. He would constantly turn up without an appointment and was very controlling and demanding. He had a very abrupt and impatient manner and complained bitterly about the quality of help he had received from the Jobcentre and a previous organisation he had been referred to.
It became apparent that Jack was outside his comfort zone and was testing the relationship before he was prepared to put his trust and confidence in the service and in his assigned adviser. We recognised we would have to spend time listening and talking to him to build mutual trust and develop a shared approach to working together.
It took time and a lot of patience to get to know Jack. We spent time listening to him, enabling him get things off his chest and talk about his life and his experience of working in Germany. This helped diffuse his frustrations and build a rapport. We did not take offence at his abrupt manner but would always stay calm, friendly and in control while showing an interest as he described working in the EU. This prompted him to open up a little bit more each time. In other words, we treated him as an equal and showed interest in and respect for him as a person.
Our discussions with Jack revealed that many of his difficulties in finding a job stemmed from his attitude. He over-compensated for his lack of confidence by trying to appear as some one in control. He was impatient at not getting what he wanted, implied he didn't need help and questioned everything. At times his sense of humour bordered on the offensive.
Before he could move forward and benefit from our support he had to be helped to come to terms with the fact he had not been able to find work on his own. However we stressed that this did not make him a failure.
Establishing a mutually respectful relationship was an important step in helping Jack recognise and accept the professional advice and guidance we were offering. We gave him positive feedback, were empathetic and respected the experiences he had used to make his decisions. But we also encouraged him to consider other angles.
Once Jack had been helped to control his initial hostility we were able to establish that he didn't want to return to the building trade. He didn't know what else he could do as he didn't have any qualifications and constantly referred to his age as a major barrier saying he didn't know how he could be helped and felt he had been "written off".
As he relaxed we discovered that quite a large element of his responsibilities in Germany had been site security. He then became open to discussing job opportunities available in security. We referred him to a local partner organisation to obtain his relevant Security Industry Association badge and licence and he is now applying for work
If you remain aware of your customer by observing their speech and behaviour you will be able to manage the conversation better. Observing any changes in language and behaviour will also make it easier to detect potential conflict.
Open questions provide information: questions starting with ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘who’, ‘when’ and ‘where’ all invite your customer to explain and describe, giving more information.
The ‘why’ question needs to be used with care: asking someone ‘why’ may put them on the defensive as it asks them to account for their actions or behaviour. This could result in your customer withdrawing co-operation, feeling injured or becoming aggressive.
You may get a better reaction and more information if you use one of the other ‘open questions’.
Closed questions are questions that can be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and are good for gaining clarity about choices and decisions.
Sensitive questioning. Not everyone will welcome the fact that they have to meet you and may be experiencing strong emotion, particularly if they are unsure of the outcome of the meeting.
You should listen, observe and question to put your customer at their ease, and remain aware of any change in their behaviour. See how to put it all together.
Putting it all together
- Use facial gestures to show that you understand: just nodding yes is a great way of demonstrating understanding and provides encouragement.
- Eye contact: keep your eyes relaxed and try not to over focus.
- Repeat back some of what you have heard the customer say: not only is this a good way of checking your understanding, it also shows the customer that you are actively listening, eg, Let me just see,… You said… What I understand from that is … What I think you may be saying is …
- Stay calm: your breathing slowly and deeply will help you keep calm to deal with whatever your customer brings to the meeting. It will also help your customer to remain calm.
- Observing of verbal and non-verbal cues: language, voice level, tone, pace, and non-verbal, eg, breathing, eye contact, body language, skin, nervous gestures, can all indicate a customer’s level of stress.
- Reflecting back to the customer what you perceive is the customer experience: saying “I see/hear/feel you’re angry/upset/disappointed” can validate the customer experience and avoid possible conflict.
- Sit with a relaxed and open posture: if possible, try not to sit behind a desk as this is a barrier and you will not be in a position to fully observe your customer.
- Leaning in towards your customer shows that you are interested.
More advanced strategies
There are other more advanced strategies for managing communication and behaviour such as mirroring body posture, matching speech and breath patterns, watching eye movements as well as pacing and leading. If you would like to know more about these strategies see Useful links on this page.
However, keeping rapport building simple will help you as you begin to develop your rapport building skills.
This site is for help and information only. It is not meant as an authoritative guide. It is not meant as an authoritative statement of the law, and future changes in the law and other programmes and initiatives could make it less accurate at times. TAEN, the Department for Work and Pensions and the European Social Fund take no responsibility for your use of the information. You should always take professional advice on any specific legal or financial matter.