Building rapport and trust in a virtual setting

Hundreds of millions of people are now using videoconferencing tools daily to virtually meet and discuss business, attend webinars or just connect with people. For instance, one such tool, Zoom, reported an average of 300 million participants meeting on its platform every day.

Business is now primarily conducted through these tools to meet prospective clients or partners, present and sell a product, negotiate a contract or build a business connection.

Meeting virtually is a two-dimensional (2D) experience in which we could barely read the body language of the other party and couldn’t follow the natural flow of a conversation on a flat screen in front of us.

Indeed, building rapport and trust in the virtual world in not easy. Everyone is still adjusting to this new normal of connecting with other people. The same principles in building rapport in a physical setting is the same as the virtual one, except that we have to adapt to it.

In the groundbreaking work of sales performance improvement firm Rain Group, it outlined four principles of building rapport and trust in a 2D world that becomes the foundation for the forging, maintaining and strengthening of business relationships between individuals and parties.

The first principle is to cultivate empathy. This is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. In a virtual meeting, we practice this by asking questions like “what’s going on in your business these days?” or “how have this in your business changed?” or something as personal as “what are your goals in this new environment?” As the other party speaks, listen intently and look at the person through your camera.

The second principle is to be authentic. Having a real meeting background when you are on camera is better than a digital one. As long as your background is not a disorganized bookshelf or a chaotic wall, show your real surroundings. Whether it is a wall filled with pictures or a nicely organized bookshelf, your background shows the other person your real personality.

Another way of conveying authenticity is smiling slowly. Research shows that when you smile more slowly in front of a camera, it conveys authenticity to the people with whom you’re communicating.

The third principle is to find similarities with the other person. Various studies reveal that people like names better when these are similar to theirs or when they prefer others who move the same way they do. This can surface in a virtual meeting by asking, for instance,
“I have a dog as well, the same as yours!”

Another way to convey similarities is by mirroring the other person’s basic behaviors. For example, if the other person in the virtual meeting speaks slowly, you can also do the same. When he or she leans forward, you can also lean forward.

The last principle is to have and discover shared experiences with the other person. People who actively interact and collaborate with another in a virtual setting develop a stronger liking to each other. You can employ digital collaboration tools, such as whiteboarding, document sharing and review, and spreadsheet editing to jointly discuss topics or solve problems. In selling virtually, you can craft a solution with a client by collaborating virtually.

Both of you would develop a sense of psychological ownership, thereby strengthening rapport and trust.

While all are still adjusting to the new normal of conducting business virtually, applying and practicing these principles can do wonders in building rapport and trust.


The author is the chief executive officer of Hungry Workhorse Consulting, a digital and culture transformation consulting firm. He is the country representative of the Institute of Change and Transformation Professionals Asia and a fellow at the US-based Institute for Digital Transformation. He teaches strategic management in the MBA program of De La Salle University. The author may be reached at