Building Rapport from the Inside Out

Scott Mills, Ph.D.

building rapport from the inside out

I’ve often heard people say that our work with clients begins as soon as they enter our office, even as they sit in a waiting room or have casual conversation. For me, the work begins in the way we imagine our clients and our relationships to them. Rapport begins internally before we ever even meet our clients. And this mental shift can radically alter how we work with people!

How do you begin with your clients?

Are you trying to fix them, sell them, make them something that they are not? No one really likes to be fixed. You have to be broken for that and in fact, your clients are working so well that they have found you, the resource that can help them get what they want.

When we hold our clients mentally as needing to be fixed, changed, or altered we limit their ability to be resourceful. At very least, we limit our own ability to enter into see and support all the resourcefulness they have.

A more useful alternative is to enter into relationship with our clients in a place of appreciation. They’ve made it this far. They must be doing something right! I am indebted to the brilliant NLP Teacher and Practitioner, Carl Buchheit, of NLP Marin, who taught me this brilliant approach to life and to clients.

Step 1: Acceptance

Whatever is going on for your client, whether it’s fear about their future finances, health issues or the relationship struggles, we simply need to start by saying okay to where they are now. There is some very good reason (we may never know what it was and we don’t need to) that they are in the place they are in now. So simply say, “Okay” to where they are right now. That means no judgment or criticism, even internally. We also want to say “okay” to what they want and know that it might shift as we explore this with them.

Step 2: Curiosity

When I’m working with a new client, I can start off assuming I know what they want or I can get curious about them and let them tell me. I get much better information when I’m in a place of curiosity. Here we can ask questions like, “What would you like?” What would that look like? What would having that experience do for you?” We don’t need to fix anything. In the sense of building rapport, we are just getting the lay of the land. They’ll feel more deeply heard and you’ll actually understand how to support them much better.

Step 3: Amazement

I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who there wasn’t quite a bit to be amazed by. Even the most dedicated addicts have something to teach me. What dedication they have to doing something that is harmful to them. (I always assume they are doing these things in honor of someone or out of a deep rooted safety pattern.) And they have managed to survive.

Another way of saying this is to simply mirror back to them (even if it’s only internally) all that they are capable of, their own resourcefulness and capacity. When you do this, you allow yourself to create much more exciting ways to work with folks. And, as an added bonus you can start to notice all of the ways that you are incredibly resourceful as well!

Step 4: Appreciation

Allow yourself to appreciate the person who is in front of you. The life struggles and skills that have brought themselves to this point, with you, prepared to take a new step in their life. Even if it’s as simple as buying an insurance policy, this can actually be a big shift in identity. They may be stepping into the experience of being an agent in their own lives rather than a victim, a provider or protector rather than being protected. Appreciate their journey and them as a person.

If you run into obstacles…

Because this process is really starting on our own maps, you might notice that if you are having difficultly with one of these steps, there are likely areas of yourself that you can not hold with curiosity, amazement and appreciation. Begin to notice in yourself these places and go through the same process. It will open space for you to work much more easily and appreciatively with others!

Next up…

Now that you have a frame for building rapport, in the next article I’ll focus on the ways that you can get this into your body as you connect with others.

Scott Mills, Ph.D. brings science, spirituality and psychology to supporting business owners and executives in creating the businesses (and lives) that they have been longing for. For more information, please check out his website at

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