How to lead an engaging conversation and build rapport

We all love to chat. And yet being the lead in the conversation is not what makes it engaging. Having the passion to get to know someone and build a relationship is a great skill in leadership, and underlying all that natural enthusiasm is the ability to lead a conversation and discover the other person’s perspective.

This post will show you how to do this in practice and actively lead an engaging conversation.

How to lead an engaging conversation
How to lead an engaging conversation

We often fail to realise the benefits of taking the time, even for a few minutes, to strengthen our bridge to other people.

The Gallup Report State of The American Manager’ concluded that just 30% of American workers are engaged at work. The findings clearly showed that rapport is a major factor in employee engagement.

So how do you build rapport? What are the steps you can take to instil one of the strongest motivators in the workplace – relatedness?

Breaking the ice

This is about making an effort to open up the general conversation and try to discover common interests. The subject matter can cover a range of topics and start with just a question or a statement. Consider for a moment someone you work with on a daily basis, that one person you have wonderful rapport with, what are the qualities that make it work?

Get into the flow of small talk.

Not everyone will be into the idea, but as long as the focus remains on something the other person is interested in then the conversation can move ahead in leaps and bounds.

You are after the common ground, so look at these nine key areas to begin the search.

  1. Life history – where did you go to school?
  2. Family – what your dad did for work?
  3. Sports – your favourite team?
  4. Entertainment – best book you’ve read?
  5. Geek – what’s your geek factor – the latest smartphone?
  6. Professional – the best job you ever had?
  7. Quirky side – I hate octopus and jellyfish!
  8. Food – are you a good cook?
  9. Life goals – to sail around the Bahamas?

Active listening

This is where the rubber meets the road. This is the single most important action to ensure that the in-sync communication of body language, eye contact and natural reflection create the desired impact.

With active listening your ability to tune-in with each other and gain understanding while displaying empathy creates a strong foundation of trust.

Where you truly listen to each other, common ground becomes an engaged tone and open body language.

Mirroring open body language can help maintain the momentum, and then all it takes is for you to remember the last conversation and what was important to the other person, then suddenly you’re back in the flow. Interestingly enough, when you meet someone you really like you do all of this without thinking.


Engaging conversation seems like it should just flow, but sometimes it needs a little encouragement. Using the tips above, try to build rapport and create genuine connections with people, and you can be sure to see the rewards in performance!

Learn more about relationships building and effective communication in our Emotional Intelligence and Influencing Skills training courses.