Build Connections that Last a Lifetime by Mastering the Three Levels of Rapport

Do you wish you had more people in your life you could count on?

Do you struggle with building deeper connections with people you meet?

Do you feel like the connections you make at networking events never go anywhere?

Building great connections with new people can seem like navigating a maze if you don’t understand how connections are built in the first place.

Because when you’re in a maze:

  • You can’t see where you started
  • You can’t see where the exit is
  • Every turn you take looks like the last one

But once you understand the three levels of connection, you go from being stuck in the maze to looking down on it, knowing where you are and where you need to go.

Connection is directly related to vulnerability, and when you’re comfortable being vulnerable at each level you’re able to confidently guide the other person through the maze as you learn more about each other and develop a solid bond.

A woman trying to decide between two paths
How do you know which way to go first?

The Three Levels of Rapport

If you’re in the passenger seat of a car and you’re telling the driver how to get from point A to point B, where would you start?

Ideally, you’d find your current location, point A, on the map and start giving directions from there. If you tried to give directions starting from point B (or somewhere in between points A and B), the driver would look at you confused.

She might just get out of the car and let you figure it out on your own.

The same goes for the three levels of connection.

If you’re going to start building a connection you must start at the beginning.

A van driving through a desert valley
“Honey, can you pull over and ask for directions—I think we’re lost…”

Light Disclosure

Vulnerability requires some level of risk, so the first level of rapport should be lighthearted, fun, or amusing anecdotes about yourself and the world around you.

This way you’re opening up without diving into the deep end.

Can you think of an embarrassing story from when you were younger?

Some examples of light disclosure include:

  • Running the mile as a child in school when you tripped in front of the whole class and everyone laughed at you.
  • You tried cutting your hair and you didn’t realize how bad it was until you walked into class the next day and everybody laughed at you.
  • During your driver’s license exam you hit a parked car because you forgot which was the brake pedal… and everybody laughed at you.

The point is if you have an embarrassing story from your past that you can laugh at now, you can consider that light disclosure.

Before we move onto the second level, keep in mind that these stories are not about the facts (location, color of the chalkboard, number of students that laughed, etc), but the emotions you felt in the story (embarrassment, frustration, anger, sadness, humiliation, etc).

We connect through emotions, not facts.

Two girls laughing in the back of a car

Medium Disclosure

Once both of you have told lighthearted stories about your pasts, you can swim toward deeper waters.

Medium disclosure consists of beliefs, opinions, feelings, and ideas about yourself and the world around you.

Johnny puts it another way: “How you see things coming together, and that has been colored and put together through your sheer experiences in life. Which means that mine are going to be different than yours.”

If light disclosure related to something from your past that you can laugh at, medium disclosure is related to your present self. It could be something in your recent past (the last few years) that still has a hold on you or left a significant impact on how you perceive yourself and the world around you.

Examples of medium disclosure are:

  • Having gone through a bad breakup that crushed your self-confidence.
  • Getting let go from a job you loved which made you question your skills, or even your career choice.

These examples are in a higher risk category than light disclosure because someone could use your vulnerability against you, either to manipulate you or just hurt you.

In addition, because two people are going to see the world through different lenses, sharing something in the medium disclosure level can invite judgment from the other person as their perception of you and the world is different.

A group of different vans parked with their occupants sitting around a campfire
We’re all on this journey through life together, so don’t be afraid to talk about what your journey has been like.

Heavy Disclosure

Heavy disclosure is the understandable human weakness.

Your fears and insecurities about yourself and the world around you fall into this category. Most people don’t want to have to admit they have fears and insecurities because that leaves them feeling vulnerable which leads them to feel unsafe.

When we hear heavy disclosure, many of us are not anticipating trust, respect, kindness, or affection.

We’re expecting the worst, like “Oh my God now I’m going to be judged and this person can’t possibly like me.” But when we drop our guard with light disclosure, start to explain our worldview in medium disclosure, and then move to heavy disclosure—that’s when we’re on the road to real connection!

Some examples of heavy disclosure include:

  • Struggling in life to achieve something worthwhile to make your parents proud of you.
  • Having a high position at work and feeling like the only reason you have it is because of your dad.
  • Being afraid you’ll never have kids because you’re struggling to make ends meet.
  • Feeling insecure about your professional potential because you never finished college.

Heavy disclosure is the final level for connection, but it doesn’t mean you have to get there with everyone you meet. Heavy disclosure should be reserved for those who earn it.

Why?

Well, if you go around telling everyone your deepest darkest secrets it tells people you will allow anyone in without knowing anything about them (not to mention those secrets are no longer deep, dark, or secret).

As Johnny puts it, “By being selective on who gets that information, it allows that other person to feel special for knowing you in such a state.”

A couple sitting in a van on the side of the road while the woman looks longingly at the man's face
You can make people feel special simply by being selective about who you invite into your world.

To Sum Up

The purpose of this article was to help you to understand the difference between light, medium, and heavy disclosure, and why they should go in order when building rapport with someone.

Light disclosure should be lighthearted, fun, or amusing anecdotes about yourself and the world around you.

Medium disclosure consists of beliefs, opinions, feelings, and ideas about yourself and the world around you.

Heavy disclosure is heavy: your fears and insecurities about yourself and the world around you.

If you want to build meaningful relationships with others in life, love, and work, you need the commitment that comes from taking risk and making others feel comfortable doing the same.

If you found this article informative and want to learn more about building strong connections, check out our podcast episode on the topic, Why Vulnerability Leads to Connection.


Do you want to make an unforgettable impression? Do you want deeper connections in your personal and professional relationships because your conversations often feel superficial or forced? When you’re able to show up powerfully, communicate exactly what you want, and get others on board—the possibilities for your life are endless! If this sounds like you, check out our Captivate + Connect program to learn how you will create strong first impressions that will quickly grab the attention of anyone, ignite authentic conversation, and leave a lasting impact!

Rick Ahlgren - author of 16 posts on The Art of Charm

Rick is a 35-year-old human who spends his time freelancing as a writer, deadlifting (with his scrawny high school physique), and performing odd jobs for friends. He takes satisfaction from helping humans become more aware and better at life, which means he has to know what he's talking about for him to be able to help others. Rick enjoys long walks and bike rides because they help him slow down and pay attention to the details of this crazy ride we call life. And he digs reading fantasy like George R.R. Martin and science fiction like Frank Herbert and Alastair Reynolds. Sometimes when Rick finds himself staring into space without any distractions, he'll ask himself "What am I doing?" Usually the answer is nothing.

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in Building A Connection, Making Friends, Networking

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