How do we form a rapport and why is it important?

We asked our intermediaries to tell us about the most common challenges they face in their roles. Mollie talks about why rapport is so important for her to do her job well.

Being a new intermediary can be a daunting prospect. There’s so much to learn about the formalities of court, working with other professionals and how to assess and support language difficulties. But one of the most important elements of our role is building a rapport with a vulnerable person. Every person we support is different and their acceptance of our presence varies.

It certainly was a challenge at the beginning of my career in this field, and sometimes is still one of the biggest challenges I have to face.

What are the key factors about rapport?

There are several factors which are key in forming a rapport with someone: confidence, perseverance, kindness and empathy.

Confidence: We have to be confident in our ability to provide support to someone. If we don’t portray that, then they’re likely to just ignore us or keep conversation to a minimum.

Perseverance: Not everyone feels ready to work with us and building that rapport may take a little longer. However, if we didn’t have some level of perseverance to overcome these obstacles then we’re probably in the wrong job. Our whole job involves finding solutions to communication difficulties.

Kindness: Being kind and that friendly face amongst all the court professionals, whether it’s on a screen or in person, can make all the difference. Someone with communication difficulties who is going through a legal process may be intimidated by the court professionals. So, it’s okay to talk about normal life outside of court and get to know someone a little better as a person, rather than just a job. The person you are supporting will welcome the distraction of talking about their pets or what their hobbies are. It’s the simple conversation topics which can really help to build that rapport.

Empathy: The people we work with come from a wide variety of backgrounds and have wide ranging experiences. They may find being in court very stressful. It’s important to try and understand where they’re coming from. There will be a range of emotions in a court day and we have to be prepared for the inevitable – will they cry, leave the room unexpectedly or raise their voice?  I’ve worked with people where all of these situations have happened so it’s not uncommon. But that all comes down to trying to understand where this emotion is coming from. In these situations, we have to be emotionally resilient.

Putting this into practice

Something which can be difficult to get used to in this job is the quick turnover of cases. Each day you could be working with a different vulnerable person, and if it’s a one day hearing you have to establish a rapport quickly. Whether this is a phone call introducing yourself and telling them they can ring or message you if they need something explained, or an introduction in person, it is essential.

Top tips:

  • Let them ask you questions, because there’ll likely be a lot. There is obviously a limit about what information you should share, but sharing a few things about yourself can help to build a rapport
  • Be yourself. We are trained in communication but we are all still human beings, and people will appreciate that we aren’t there to judge them or their situation

Keeping the boundaries:
It’s extremely important to remember there are boundaries to uphold. We are not their friends and anything they tell us relating to their case must be shared with their legal team, no matter how insignificant it may seem.

What if I have to work with someone remotely?

Working with a vulnerable person remotely can be difficult. Before Covid-19, all of our work would have been face-to-face, but the pandemic meant having to adapt. You can still build a rapport effectively if you are not in the same room. It is important to speak to the person you are supporting before the hearing and ask them how they are feeling. You can agree to set up a separate communication channel during the hearing, perhaps by texting. This gives them an opportunity to ask you things and you can check their understanding during proceedings.

Building rapport is one of the first things we have to do when working with someone. It sets the tone for how you will work together, whether this is a one-day hearing or a 3-week hearing. Even though we might not be working with someone for a long time, we have such an impact on their ability to understand these important events in their lives. So, it’s extremely important to build that rapport so we can provide the best possible service.

I don’t have all the answers. I still have to think on my feet and ask more senior intermediaries for advice because our job can be unpredictable, to say the least. But whatever obstacles arise, we can overcome it. We’re all working towards the same goal: assisting vulnerable people with communication difficulties in court.