Social and Emotional Intelligence Series: Establishing Rapport

Social and emotional intelligence matters. There is a direct link between these competencies and leadership effectiveness. Interest in workplace relationships and leadership has had a long history in the field of leadership and organizational psychology. Over the last twenty years, a considerable amount of research and practice in the field of industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology has focused on two areas related to workplace relationships: emotional intelligence and political skill. The foundations of EI – the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s own thinking and actions – began in the late 1980s with the work of several theorists, was brought into the mainstream by the mid-90s, and has become an area of interest by many organizational psychologists and management consultants. Political skill was introduced in the academic literature by Ferris and colleagues and is defined as the ability to effectively understand others at work, and to use such knowledge to influence others to act in ways that enhance one’s organizational and/or personal objectives.

Although a considerable amount of research and practice has focused on emotional intelligence and political skill as they relate to executive coaching and leadership development, there are several limitations in the current models. First, many of the conceptualizations of these two constructs and their measures view components of interpersonal relationships as dispositional variables. This suggests that individuals possess certain levels of a construct, which is similar to research on the Five Factor Model of personality or other personality variables. Perspectives on interpersonal constructs that use this approach do not account for the awareness, learning, and development of specific habits and skills that can improve workplace relationships with others. Second, some of the conceptual models of these constructs are too extensive in that they include numerous (often irrelevant) dimensions. For example, many critics of emotional intelligence state that some of the conceptual models include everything outside of cognitive ability.

There are certain functions necessary for the development of any conceptual model that can be used in management psychology. A strong framework for developing a competency model should be its: a) comprehensiveness – it accounts for a wide variety of aspects of the psychological makeup of a leader; b) parsimony – it is simple, economic, and efficient; and c) relevance – it specifies variables and concepts in such a way that there is agreement about their meaning and potential for measurement. Therefore, the purpose of this series is to introduce the Bandelli Social and Emotional Intelligence Competency Model™.

Over the next several weeks, we will cover the four key dimensions of social and emotional intelligence. Our model focuses on social intelligence, in that all workplace relationships involve behaviors and actions that are opportunities for effective communication between two or more people. It covers emotional intelligence, in that an understanding and use of emotions is critical to the success of any workplace relationship. Lastly, our model is conceptualized as being a set of competencies – measurable work habits and personal skills that can be used to achieve work-related objectives – that an individual can be made aware of, acquire knowledge about, learn and develop, and then practice until he/she is proficient in using the skills. We will begin our series with the competency of Establishing Rapport.

The competency of establishing rapport – a process of building a sustaining relationship of mutual trust, harmony, and understanding – has been studied in the field of leadership and applied psychology for over fifty years. Rapport is often viewed as a starting point for developing trust and influence with others by using empathy and respect to create an environment of mutual understanding. Research suggests that those skilled at developing and using diverse networks tend to hold assets seen as valuable for successful personal and organizational functioning. Additionally, other research suggests that establishing rapport is the first step toward building any close relationship.

Research on establishing rapport has often focused on the condition of rapport – a state of existing affinity between two individuals – with the goal of making communication more effective. In the field of I-O psychology, this has most notably been examined within the context of the employment interview. Researchers suggest that there are eight components to establishing rapport: a) similarity – the degree to which two individuals share cultural norms and values, environmental influences, experiences, personality, attitudes, and expectations; b) inclusion/involvement – the degree to which both people want to get to know one another and develop a relationship; c) affection/liking – the degree to which both parties like and respect one another; d) control/dominance – the degree to which both individuals share control and neither seeks to dominate the conversation or interaction; e) self-perception – the view one holds about his/her self-concept, based on physical, social, and psychological perceptions; f) other-perception – the manner in which each employee perceives the other person; g) verbal interactions – the words used during communication between two individuals; and h) nonverbal interactions – the use of signals such as physical appearance, dress, eye contact, voice, touch, posture, and proximity of the two parties.

Some practitioners have suggested that there are additional components related to the establishment of rapport in workplace relationships. Some have argued that humor – any communicative instance perceived as funny or entertaining – is a common element of human interaction and daily organizational life. Research suggests that the use of humor is a management tool that is indispensable. Several studies have linked the use of humor to stress reduction, enhancing leadership, creativity, group cohesiveness, and communication. Thus, humor may also be considered a component of establishing rapport as it allows both parties to relax and increase the likelihood of generating camaraderie.

Although theories of workplace relationships and social effectiveness do not include a specific dimension labeled “establishing rapport,” there are similarities. For example, emotional intelligence includes discerning and understanding one’s own emotions and the emotions of others. Identifying and understanding own emotions and the emotions of others are directly related to the rapport components of affection/liking, self-perception, other-perception, and nonverbal interactions. Similarly, political skill does not directly discuss rapport and rapport building techniques, but contains a dimension known as networking ability. Ferris and colleagues defined this dimension as an “ability to easily develop friendships and build strong, beneficial alliances and coalitions.” Leaders who are skilled at establishing rapport possess the tools necessary to develop close working relationships and create diverse networks in organizations.

Establishing rapport is a foundational skill in developing one’s social and emotional intelligence. Learning how to build relationships quickly helps to maximize the impact and influence leaders can have on others. This skill can be developed with practice and coaching.

Next week, we will explore the second dimension of the Bandelli Social and Emotional Intelligence Competency Model: Understanding Others.

For more information on the Bandelli Social and Emotional Intelligence Competency Model™ contact us at

Leadership Matters. Without It, People Fail.