How Does Our Ratio of Asking to Telling Build Rapport?



So why is it that with some people we meet, there is an immediate connection and with others there isn’t?  Much of this has to do with personality and mutual interest, and some of it is about our dialogue.  When we assume others are interested or don’t know about the information we are sharing, rapport can be stifled.  If engaging others is the goal, then most adults respond better when they are asked about what they want or are asked for their thoughts before we tell.


Well-formed questions are powerful tools in building rapport with others.  When we ask questions, the other person’s brain cannot help but respond with an answer.  Questions cause people to engage rather than dismiss what we are saying.  Questions also challenge our habitual thinking patterns and help us open up to new alternatives.  Questions are the key to guiding what people focus on and how their brains process information.   If you want to build rapport with others, a good rule of thumb for dialogue is to communicate with a ratio of at least 60% asking and 40% telling.

Remember, our words cause others to respond so be clear about the intention of your message and how it is delivered.  Using questions in a way that moves toward a higher-level outcome is a skill that provides us with power and flexibility.  For example, if a person says “I don’t want…” or “I don’t know…” respond with a question that encourages them to think rather than telling them what to think.  A useful response could be, “If you don’t know, then there must be a lot of possibilities.  What might be one?” or “How would things be different if you did know?”  These types of questions will help you learn more about the other person, and if asked genuinely, they build rapport by showing an authentic interest in the other person’s concerns.

To learn more about building rapport by recognizing language patterns and developing clarifying questions, click here to read my book The Influence Matrix: Strategies for Engaging Others to Get Results.