Rapport-based Communication – Defining rapport

In the approach of “rapport-based communication”, the concept of rapport is defined through the work of Robert Rosenthal, Linda Tickle-Degnan and Daniel Goleman.

Rapport exists only between people; we recognise it whenever a connection feels pleasant, engaged and smooth (Goleman, 2006). 

In their 1990 paper, “The Nature of Rapport and Its Non-verbal Correlates”, Rosenthal and Tickle-Degnan explain that “individuals experience rapport as the result of a combination of qualities that emerge from each individual in interaction”. They suggest that there are three such qualities that are central to the tangible, mutual experience of rapport, qualities that Daniel Goleman describes as necessary ‘ingredients’ in his book Social Intelligence (2006). These three qualities are:

Mutual attentiveness

When people are experiencing rapport, the social attention of each person is directed toward the other person/people – they are ‘other-involved’. This is experienced by the other person as intense mutual interest in what the other is saying or doing. (Rosenthal, Tickle-Degnan 1990).

Mutual positivity

Interactants experiencing rapport with one another feel mutual friendliness and caring (Rosenthal, Tickle-Degnan 1990). Rapport feels good, a sense of friendliness where each person experiences each other’s warmth (Goleman 2006).


A high degree of behavioural co-ordination or non-verbal synchrony described by Goleman (2006) as “a spontaneous and immediate responsiveness that has the look of a closely choreographed dance, as though the call and response of the interaction had been purposefully planned – their eyes meet, bodies get close, pulling chairs near”. Parks and Burgess (1924) describe this ingredient when they state that “rapport implies the existence of a mutual responsiveness, such that every member of the group reacts immediately, spontaneously, and sympathetically to the sentiments and attitudes of every other member” (p. 893).

This research underpins the practice of rapport-based communication. The purpose of the approach is to find rapport and the definition of the three ingredients offers practitioners both a clear definition of the experience and also of the qualities to embody in order to find it.

3C's of Rapport-based Communication

The purpose of the 3C’s is to provide practitioners with a clear practice for creating rapport that is based on Rosenthal’s three ingredients. By knowing the three ingredients and the 3C’s we can intentionally work for better rapport and offer more experiences of connection, communication and empathy to people who are at risk of social isolation.

The first C is to look for OFFERS. In the context of inclusive interaction, an OFFER is now anything that a person does unprompted that has the potential to be reciprocated by the practitioner through joining in or copying or reflecting. Looking for OFFERS requires mindful attention, the first ingredient of rapport.

The second C is to copy the OFFERS. The practitioner now joins in with the person, reciprocating their actions and behaviour. When copying the persons actions, the practitioner and the person are in synchrony, the second ingredient of rapport.  When the practitioner copies a person’s actions they are making an affirmation, non-verbally saying “Yes, this is a good thing to do”.

The third C is to celebrate the OFFERS. The practitioner makes sure to join in and reciprocate warmly, responding like there is nothing that they would rather be doing, like the person has had the best idea ever. By reacting with pleasure to the person’s actions and behaviour, the person is also like to feel happy and this results in a shared positive feeling, the third ingredient of rapport.

Interestingly, in their 1990 paper, Rosenthal and Tickle-Degnan also study the effect of various non-verbal behaviours upon rapport, concluding that postural mirroring is the most effective strategy in interactions in which one person is helping the other (eg teacher/student, nurse/patient).

The essence of this practice therefore is to create rapport and develop relationship by warmly joining in with what the person is doing with 100% of your attention.


Tickle-Degnen, L. and Rosenthal, R. (1990). The Nature of Rapport and Its Nonverbal Correlates. Psychological Inquiry, 1(4), pp.285-293.

What is social learning?

In social learning theory, learning is understood to be a chain of events involving people engaging with each other which leads to a change in something they care about.  The most well known model of social learning is that of a ‘community of practice’,  a term coined by Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave in the 1980’s in their research observing how traditional skills are taught and passed on in traditional West African societies.  

A community of practice is defined as a group of people (the community) who all share a common passion or challenge (referred to as the domain) and who, through engaging with each  regularly, develop a practice to solve the problem.  A good example of a community of practice is a chess club.  The community is the members of the chess club.  The domain is ‘understanding chess’.  Through playing each other the members learn the practice of chess ie. how set up the board, how the pieces move, opening moves, strategies etc.  

Another recent example of a community of practice is that of Extinction Rebellion.  The community all share a passion or concern for how the future will be affected by climate change and biodiversity loss.  The main domain might be described as ‘how to change government policy on climate change and biodiversity loss’ or ‘how to raise awareness of climate change and biodiversity loss’.  The practice includes understanding non-violent direct action, protest strategies and techniques etc.  

While some communities of practice form naturally, an understanding of social learning theory can be applied to facilitate and manage their development and efficacy.

My training days designed to facilitate the development of a community of practice and involves the following elements to achieve this:

  • Social interaction is encouraged by seating delegates in groups rather than rows

  • Practical enjoyable activities and discussions form the majority of the content

  • Reflective practice encourages delegates to rethink their practice

  • World Cafe style discussions to encourage new connections and networks between delegates