Building Rapport with Students

How and why do we establish rapport with students…

school counselors

Most of us try building harmonious relationships with others, recognizing the importance for our well being as well as our communities and families, but professions like school counseling require relationship building as crucial for success.

This particular skill is also called building rapport, and it goes beyond simply agreeing with others in order to “connect.” It’s recognizing that others have differing points of view, yet allowing people to communicate without feeling judged, condemned or guilty. When students have rapport with school counselors they openly share their thoughts, and feel respected and understood.

Although building rapport with students is not an easily quantifiable skill, school counselors know when they have achieved it. Leaders in school counseling characterize rapport as containing a number of important qualities and interactions, including the following:

How to establish rapport with students…


This is the foundation that allows students to share feelings and thoughts with confidence that the counselor will not negate or judge these feelings, nor will the counselor indiscriminately share these feelings with others who are not trustworthy. The counselor never promises not to notify others if the situation requires such advocacy, but students trust the counselor’s discretion.

To build trust, school counselors must be genuinely accepting. They should know the student’s culture, not trying to be a part of it, but understand the norms and trends, which shows students that the school counselor truly understands.

Trust also takes place when the school counselor shares a part of himself or herself with the student. The student needs to see the counselor as a person too, with the same fears, dreams and problems as every other person, creating mutual respect and honesty.


School counselors must be active listeners. This means listening to the words that students are using, hearing the tone of those words, and watching students’ nonverbal expressions and body movements. Active listening also means identifying what is left unsaid or unspoken.

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This type of listening requires a school counselor’s full attention, both physical and mental, as the counselor pushes aside all other thoughts and focuses exclusively on the conversation. This means not thinking of answers as the student talks, and not interrupting. It means listening to how things are said, and avoiding stereotyping. It involves making eye contact, and listening to the student even when he or she stops talking.


Simply listening to students isn’t enough. School counselors must be able to experience the students’ feelings as their own, or live an experience with a child that the counselor never lived.

Having empathy means understanding the emotional states of others, and helping those with emotional problems develop appropriate solutions. Empathy is the pinnacle of moral development, as it also means understanding one’s own feelings and behaviors.

Empathy is a skill that requires understanding — a skill learned over time. It does not mean abdicating one’s own point of view, rather compassionately understanding a different viewpoint and finding healthy, appropriate responses or opinions to tough and difficult situations.


Kids gravitate toward those who know how to laugh and have fun. Laughter also makes kids relax, and develops that important foundation of trust that’s essential for all school counselors.

Laughter has other benefits for students as well. Medical researchers now say that laughter reduces levels of certain stress hormones, which tend to increase when individuals experience stress, anger or hostility.

Humility. Kids are often the first to sense a “know-it-all.” When counselors show kids that they don’t have all the answers, nor do they think they have all the answers, that increases the students’ ability to connect and form a positive relationship.

School counselors also must demonstrate to students that although they don’t have all the answers, they are willing to search and problem-solve with the student to find workable solutions.

Undoubtedly, school counselors enter the field in order to change and affect the lives of students. That requires the ability to connect or build rapport with students, which takes patience, understanding and compassion. Working on the skills listed above, school counselors will create the type of bonds that ultimately impact and significantly alter lives.

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