How to build a good rapport in qualitative research

Nov 28, 2023

Building a good rapport with consumers is crucial for obtaining quality insights. In qualitative research, building rapport provides the foundation for open and honest discussion, allowing moderators to delve deeper into complex topics. Let's talk about why rapport matters and how to cultivate it skillfully, including:

  • Build rapport meaning
  • The importance of building rapport
  • Rapport building strategies
  • What kills rapport?
  • Challenges of building rapport  

What does it even mean to build rapport?

Rapport refers to the level of connection and trust between a moderator and research participants. It enables participants to feel comfortable opening up and sharing truthful perspectives.

Sylvestre's President and Chief Insight Seeker Isabelle Landreville explains, "You have to build rapport in order to instill trust."

Rapport goes beyond superficial niceties. It involves showing genuine interest in the participant's viewpoint and making them feel valued. Isabelle emphasizes being fully present and mindful: "I think there's something about building rapport that also makes the person be in the moment a bit more."

Creating rapport requires moderators to tap into emotional intelligence. They must pick up on interpersonal cues and adapt their approach accordingly. Isabelle describes it as "reading the room and opening doors using rapport." The ability to connect authentically and listen attentively is paramount.

The importance of building rapport

Rapport is the gateway to insightful findings. By constructing an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect, participants feel at ease sharing their true perspectives. As Isabelle states, "They'll let you in so you can...get to the juicy things." She stresses the importance of patience and making people "feel truly heard."

Rapport also enables moderators to explore sensitive topics that may be off-limits otherwise. Isabelle recounts a conversation about WWII history in Germany, where those conversations are traditionally hard and often impossible. But a candid discussion was possible when "safety, comfort, respect" were present.

Additionally, rapport grants moderators latitude to redirect conversations without offending participants. Isabelle explains that it "gives you license" and "permission to do things" like gently limiting a talkative participant's airtime. 

In essence, rapport establishes clear expectations and social norms that facilitate open exchanges.  

"By building rapport, we are allowed to ask more meaningful questions,” said Clari Sant’Anna, Resident Anthropologist at Sylvestre.

Rapport building strategies

How can moderators cultivate meaningful connections with participants? Here are actionable techniques that the team at Sylvestre uses:

  • Start with small talk and 'landing strips': Dedicate time upfront for introductions and ice-breaking. Avoid jumping into heavy topics.
  • Spotlight humanity: Have participants share something unique about themselves unrelated to demographics. Ask people to describe themselves in one word to highlight their individuality.
  • Actively listen: Give your full attention when participants speak. Reflect their emotions and stories back to show you truly comprehend.
  • Ask thoughtful follow-ups: Pose questions that draw out more details and enrich understanding. Isabelle emphasizes using the participant's own words.
  • Project warmth and care: Convey genuine interest in what people say. Isabelle accentuates the importance of tone and intent.
  • Customize connections: Tailor your rapport-building approach based on personality types and cultural background. Adapt organically.  

Fundamentally, moderators must demonstrate presence and empathy. It's not about you as the moderator is about the other person.

What kills rapport?

Rapport requires vigilance to maintain. Even minor missteps can shatter trust and shut down conversations. Isabelle cautions that "nothing can kill rapport" instantly like these pitfalls:

  • Appearing distracted or blasé: Failing to listen fully destroys rapport fast. Participants want moderators' complete attention.
  • Neglecting group dynamics: Allowing one person to dominate discussions or say offensive things without intervening breeds resentment.
  • Losing patience: Snapping at a participant who needs clarification or misses a cue damages the relationship.
  • Seeming fake or guarded: Overly sticking to scripted questions or giving rote affirmative feedback rings hollow.
  • Making it about yourself: Hijacking the conversation or dwelling on your reactions comes across as self-centered.

Essentially, anything that makes participants feel ignored, judged, or disrespected can erode rapport rapidly. Moderators must manage group interactions skillfully and exude genuine interest at all times.

Challenges of Building Rapport

While crucial, establishing rapport requires effort and nuance. Moderators must adapt to diverse participants and settings.  

Fellow moderator, Marin de Pralormo agrees that “rapport-building is an art of adaptation. Understanding the unique cultural landscapes we navigate is essential for creating genuine connections.”

Rapport-building also varies across cultures. What fosters trust for one demographic may not translate. Adaptability and empathy are vital. Isabelle states, "You have to be able to make those doors that you feel you can open with people." Local partners can provide guidance when navigating new cultural contexts.

Additionally, sympathy can be counter-productive, whereas empathy connects. Showing concern without over-identifying maintains objectivity. "You have to be intellectually extremely empathetic" but "not emotionally involved," Isabelle said.

Finally, rapport serves research goals; moderators' personal curiosity is irrelevant.  Keeping business needs front and center keeps rapport authentic and constructive.

In summary, building meaningful rapport with diverse participants across varied contexts requires adaptability, emotional intelligence, and practice. There are many nuances to learn. But ultimately, rapport enables richer qualitative insights.