How to Build Instant Rapport and Trust by Being a Better Listener

by Michael Keeler

Most of us are crappy listeners.

We think we’re paying attention, but we’re not.

All too often we’re just waiting for our chance to talk. Or we’re judging what the other person is saying so that we can quickly agree or disagree. Or we are lost in our own mental monologue, thinking about something else entirely.

The good news is that being a crummy listener doesn’t make you a bad person. We all do it. (Cyber Hug)

The bad news is that being such an ineffective listener has a cost to our relationships. When we don’t listen fully to others we can be seen as disingenuous or inauthentic.

When we don’t fully listen to others, they can tell. We all have an innate BS meter that warns us when someone isn’t fully present. The true cost is that it prevents us from building trust and rapport with others.

If you believe that trust is an essential ingredient in all valued relationships, then becoming a great listener should be your top priority.

Consider that there are three levels of listening.



Let’s call level one, subjective listening.

This is the kind of listening most of us do most of the time. Subjective listening is making everything about you. We don’t do this because we’re inherently selfish, we do it as a way to relate to one another.

It usually sounds something like this:

Person A: How was your weekend?

Person B: I was at a wedding in Miami.

Person A: I was just in Miami a few months ago.

Person B: I stayed at a fancy hotel called the Delano.

Person A: Nice. I stayed at an Airbnb with a few friends.

That probably sounds familiar, right?

There’s nothing wrong with this conversation. Both people were relating and sharing things they had in common.

But you’ll notice that most sentences started with “I” and it was like a game of tennis with each person volleying the same topic back and forth to each other.

A deeper connection starts with deeper listening.



Level two listening is reflective listening.  

In this level of listening, you let the other person know you are listening by reflecting back what you heard. You are choosing to get curious about the other person’s experience and temporarily putting your thoughts and opinions on the back burner.

Reflecting back what you hear another person say gives them a genuine sense that you are listening to them and that their intended message is received. Getting curious and asking open-ended questions allows you to stay on the other person’s agenda and build a deeper connection.

When you are successful at reflective listening the other person will feel seen and heard. They will start to feel like they are important to you–instantly building more trust and rapport.

Here’s an example:

Person A: How was your weekend?

Person B: It was great I was as a wedding in Miami.

Person A: Amazing. You were at a Miami wedding. How was it?

Person B: It was an incredible weekend. I got to spend time with some of my best friends and the weather was perfect.

Person A: Sounds like you had an amazing weekend and got some quality time with cool people. What was your favorite part?

Person B: The wedding was so special. It really gave me a new perspective on love and what I might want my wedding to be someday.

How was that different from the first conversation?

For starters, Person A learned so much more about Person B. Just by reflecting back what they heard and getting curious about their experience the conversation got much deeper, much more quickly.

How would you feel if you were Person B?

I bet you’d feel pretty special. You’d feel like Person A really gives a shit about your weekend and is invested in your life. Pretty satisfying, right?

But wait, there’s more! (I love infomercials! Haha)

Reflective listening is great, and a huge improvement from what we normally do.

But there is a third level that, with practice, can really be a game changer.



Level three listening is intuitive listening.

The core question you are asking yourself at this level is “What do I know about this person’s values and beliefs based on what they are telling me?”

This kind of listening leverages your intuition–that voice in your head that knows something without the need for conscious reasoning. You feel it in your gut.

Just like level two, intuitive listening requires you to get curious about the other person and reflect back what you hear. But in level three you also reflect back your intuition about the other person’s core beliefs and values.

Here’s what it can sound like:

Person A: How was your weekend?

Person B: It was great. I was at a wedding in Miami.

Person A: Wow. You went all the way to Miami for a wedding. That couple must be really important to you. How was it?

Person B: They are two of my favorite people on the planet. It was such a gift to be there for their wedding and spend the weekend with our group of friends.

Person A: Sounds like you had an amazing weekend and really value spending quality time with that group. What makes them so special?

Person B: I often feel like I have to be a certain way with some friends. But with this group, I can really be myself. I don’t feel judged so I had the time of life and we made some brilliant memories.

What did you notice about that conversation?

Did you see how Person A used their intuition to reflect back the beliefs and values of Person B?

When you do this deep level of mirroring back to someone the things that are most important to them you’re not just saying “I hear you” you are saying “I get you.”

That is what true listening is all about–giving the other person the sense that they are understood and their experience matters.

It’s simple, but it’s not easy. Learning to actually be present, listen fully, be curious, and powerfully reflect back what you hear takes practice.

So, that’s my invitation to you.

Go practice!

Share the three levels of listening with your team and coworkers and practice each one. In the beginning, it will be awkward. Do it anyway. Do. It. Anyway.

Over time it will become more natural and you’ll be able to build trust and rapport more quickly and with less effort. With that trust you can develop better relationships with coworkers and clients, acting like rocket fuel for your career and business.

Give it a try and share your experience in the comments below.




  1. Roxy

    Great blog! You broke active listen down very nicely. These techniques are part of Motivational Interviewing listening skills. If I could suggest a link to motivational interviewing so readers could learn more?

    • Michael Keeler

      Thank you Roxy! I’m glad you found it valuable 🙂

  2. Joel Paavola

    fantastic! I’m going to go practice RN!

    • Michael Keeler

      Do it, Joel! Let me know how it goes.


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