Last updated December 18, 2023

In today’s fast-paced and competitive professional landscape, effective mentorship has emerged as a crucial tool for individual and organizational growth. It gives colleagues a chance to work together and to help each other and means that a wide range of skills and knowledge can be tapped into.

In order though for mentoring to be at its most effective, knowing how to build rapport (as the mentor) with the mentee is essential. So let’s now summarize with some tips on how to build rapport.

How to build rapport between mentor and mentee
From the Mentoring Skills training materials

1. Show Acceptance of Other People’s ideas

Showing acceptance of other people’s ideas is important if you want to create a positive connection with the person you are mentoring (the mentee).

Never, for example, say to someone “You are wrong”.

Such a comment is very likely to hurt your mentee’s pride and put them in a defensive position.

Listen to what they have to say and, if you think they are wrong, say something like “I think otherwise. I might be wrong. Let’s examine the situation.”

2. Display Positive Body Language

When you want to connect with other people and encourage them to open up to you, it is important to display open body language.

This means avoiding: crossing your legs and/or arms, fidgeting, and orienting your body away from the other person.

Instead, use open gestures, smile, and make eye contact (if culturally appropriate).

You can find the body language & non-verbal communication teaching materials here or see a body language activity below.

3. Smile and Use Humor When Appropriate

Smiling is such a simple thing, yet it can create rapport immediately.

A genuine smile says to the other person that we like them, and that we are happy to see them.

Of course, the smile needs to be genuine and come from the heart. A fake smile is easy to detect and is counterproductive.

You can tell the difference as a genuine smile involves not only the muscles around the mouth but also the muscles around the eyes (creating wrinkles around the eyes).

On the other hand, a fake smile only causes a contraction of the muscles around the lips, while the eyes are not involved at all.

You can lighten the mood by using humor if and when appropriate.

4. Be Approachable

Somebody who is approachable shows interest in others and willingness to help.

As a mentor, you should be approachable anyway (within certain boundaries so it does not become overwhelming for you).

If the mentee senses that you are sincerely happy to help them, they are likely to develop trust in you.

5. Share Similar Experiences

Sharing similar experiences is about finding common ground.

So, for example, if at a previous point in your career, you went through the same obstacles as your mentee does now, let them know.

If you both share a common interest, passion or hobby, also let them know.

Finding common ground is a good way to create a connection.

6. Be Present and Focused

This means completely focusing on the person you are listening to.

Can you imagine how irritating it is to talk to someone who is fidgeting, checking their phone, or looking somewhere else? Avoid doing the same to your mentee.

In order to facilitate an effective conversation and to build rapport, be present and in the moment. So make an effort to care and focus as you mentor.

7. Match and Mirror Words and Behavior

Matching and mirroring words and behavior is a good way to build rapport using nonverbal communication.

We do this naturally when we talk to someone we get on with. In those situations, we tend to move in similar ways as the other person and talk using similar words.

So, to match the other person’s behavior and words on purpose, you need to observe them and notice things such as their:

  • Posture
  • Movement speed
  • Volume and rate of speech
  • Amount of eye contact
  • Gestures
  • Words (so you can reiterate their points by using their same words)

Of course, you don’t want to overuse this technique as otherwise it might come across as fake and be counterproductive in terms of building trust.

So, try to be subtle when mirroring and matching a person’s words and behavior.

8. Show Empathy and Understanding

Try to see the situation from the mentee’s point of view and acknowledge their feelings.

Even when you might not necessarily agree on something or when you might have a different way of seeing or doing things, to the mentee, make an effort to be open-minded.

With this open-mindedness, you should find it easier to understand things from the mentee’s perspective and to show empathy.

9. Be Reliable

Rapport is built on trust and part of being trustworthy is delivering on your promises. For example, don’t promise things you know you can’t deliver; be on time, and don’t cancel meetings at the last minute.

If, for any reason, you can’t deliver, make sure you have a good explanation and give plenty of warning unless it’s an emergency.

10. Don’t Invade Privacy

Generally speaking, keep your questions strictly related to the professional area and to the expertise that the mentee needs your help with.

If you find that you have things in common then that of course is fine, but do not overstep the mark.

Mentoring materials
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Dr Valeria Lo Iacono