by Arielle Essex

How do you know if you’ve lost rapport?

Easy: you experience communication that lacks clarity; instead, there’s resistance, discomfort, unease, confusion, challenges, criticism, disagreements, coldness, arguments, conflicts, stonewalling, withdrawing, hidden agendas or political power plays. You receive feedback about lacking people skills, needing leadership training, being hard to read and not acting as a team player. You have difficulty bringing people with you and getting agreement; you may not feel supported by staff or team, and either you seem to be unappreciated by upper management or you are not being promoted.


An overseas director, responsible for buying businesses for his company, had gone through several negotiations with one particular client in the Far East. The contract was ready to be signed at this final meeting. This OD’s natural style was ‘approachable’ rapport and he believed he had a friendly relationship with his client.

Unfortunately, during this meeting, something he said caused great offence. His client ceased speaking in English and, with a torrent of angry words and gestures, stormed out of the room. The OD’s interpreters advised him that this was just a ‘show’ because the client’s other board directors were also present at this meeting. But the deal was now in tatters.

In his eagerness to close the deal, this OD had inadvertently ‘cornered’ his client, making him lose face in front of his board. Cornering someone is a great way to lose rapport. The other person has only two choices: fight or withdraw.

The remedy involved restoring the correct political protocol – honouring the credibility and position of the other person. The OD apologised profusely, even though he still had no idea what had caused the offence. The client was then able to find a graceful way to sign the contract without losing face, and the deal was agreed.