The Relationship Journey – Step 5: Empathy and Building Rapport

There is a lot of talk about empathy yet like many aspects of listening it is not about doing, rather it is about being, being empathic.  When we are empathic, people notice, and it makes a difference.

On the Relationship Journey, we have paid attention and actively listened to the person in front of us, asked them questions to ensure our understanding, given them the time and space to think, and to bring forth their feelings and their latest thinking.

In our response to all of this, we can show we understand them further, by playing back some of what they have said to us, using their words and sometimes paraphrasing them, and to share some of the feelings we are feeling they might be feeling.  When this is done well, you are likely to get a positive response.  They could say, “That’s right”, or “Yes, you have got it”.  Alternatively, they could sit upright, lean in more, and become animated and excited about what they are sharing.

This is the beginning of being in rapport with them.  When you are empathic and in rapport, the level of trust will rise again.  There is an ease about the conversation, it starts to flow, and it is calmer, less about sides, and more about collaboration and being together.  It means greater understanding and appreciation for each other.

One word of warning, if your intention is not well-meaning, they will feel it and will be less inclined to open up and share more.

As an example of empathy, my daughter is a Children’s Nurse in A&E and is at times called upon to be with distressed parents after the death of their child.  She has been a Nurse for around six years now and she usually gets tearful in these situations.  She will often hug and comfort the parents and be okay showing that she is feeling it too.

One may argue that Nurses should be able to ‘deal with’ these situations without getting emotional.  Maybe to ‘harden up’ to it all. I am sure some Nurses and Doctors do harden up, but I am not convinced this is best for the individuals concerned. I am not suggesting that it is acceptable for Nurses to break down in front of the parents, far from it, rather to simply show that they are feeling what the parents are feeling, as this can be so cathartic for them to see and feel.

Quite often my daughter is part of an amazing team working together to save a child’s life.  They are using all of their medical skills to revive them, and I am sure they say many internal prayers to will this child back to life as well.  When they are unable to save this life, they will feel it too.  After all, they are human like the rest of us.

I believe by showing another our humanity and being vulnerable, not only gives them permission to be vulnerable too, but it also brings us all closer together.

Having been empathic with them, and they feel she understands them, it is much easier for my daughter to be compassionate and support them through the period afterward, such as answering any questions they may have, obtaining hand and footprints and a few locks of hair, if this is the parent’s wishes. In addition, her quietly being there and fully present for the parents at this time, can be reassuring and consoling.

At times she may have to return to the Paediatric department where she can be faced with less than helpful comments, shall we say, from those parents who have been waiting for a long time to see the Doctor or to receive treatment for their child.  Because she understands where they are coming from, she can calmly, caringly, and empathically respond to them.  What she finds particularly interesting is that the very same parents are the first to come back with an embarrassed apology, sometimes a gift of doughnuts for the Nurses or they will write something positive about the Nurses on feedback forms.

Be empathic, and when you are, you build rapport.


Colin D. Smith
Colin D. Smith
COLIN is ‘The Listener’, a listening skills specialist and the ‘go-to’ person for individuals and teams who want to be heard, think for themselves, and transform their business and personal relationships through active listening. Colin has that innate ability to actively listen to people. He works with management, project and creative teams, facilitating the development and improvement of their listening and thinking skills. Thereby equipping them to more effectively meet their business, relationship and service challenges. He also works privately with individuals, enabling them to feel heard and valued, to think more clearly for themselves, articulate their creative ideas, address their personal concerns, and achieve their personal and professional goals. Colin has had a varied and successful career in consultancy, business development, IT and customer support, across many sectors, including finance, motor, retail and the NHS. In looking back he realises that much of his success was due to his listening and connecting abilities. His inquisitive and curious mind also enables him to explore, with others, unusual, thought-provoking, yet grounded, observations and alternative approaches to business, people, systems, and change. To make things happen, and to take ideas and thinking further, he connects his Clients with his trusted network of entrepreneurs, consultants, thought leaders, free thinkers, coaches and change makers.

DO YOU HAVE THE "WRITE" STUFF? If you’re ready to share your wisdom of experience, we’re ready to share it with our massive global audience – by giving you the opportunity to become a published Contributor on our award-winning Site with (your own byline). And who knows? – it may be your first step in discovering your “hidden Hemmingway”. LEARN MORE HERE


  1. Thank you for this one, Colin. I appreciate the personal example you’ve shared here. It’s so true that when we show empathy, it’s as if we are saying, “I see you; I hear you; I value you.” Judgement says the exact opposite. Logically then, a lack of empathy is either indifference or judgement.

    I always learn from you. I’m grateful, as always…