Meeting new people can be awkward. What should you say? How can you make a good impression? How do you keep a conversation going?
Research shows relationships are vital to happiness and networking is the key to getting jobs and building a fulfilling career.
But what’s the best way to build rapport and create trust? Plain and simple, who can explain how to get people to like you?
Robin was head of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program and has studied interpersonal relations for over 27 years.
He is the author of the excellent book, It’s Not All About “Me”: The Top Ten Techniques for Building Quick Rapport with Anyone.
I gave Robin a call to get some answers. (Note that Robin is not speaking for the FBI here, these are his expert insights.)
You’re going to learn:
- The #1 secret to clicking with people.
- How to put strangers at ease.
- The thing you do that turns people off the most.
- How to use body language like a pro.
- Some great verbal jiu-jitsu to use on people who try to manipulate you.
And a lot more. Okay, let’s learn something.
1) The Most Important Thing To Do With Anyone You Meet
Robin’s #1 piece of advice: “Seek someone else’s thoughts and opinions without judging them.”
Ask questions. Listen. But don’t judge. Nobody — including you — likes to feel judged.
The number one strategy I constantly keep in the forefront of my mind with everyone I talk to is non-judgmental validation. Seek someone else’s thoughts and opinions without judging them. People do not want to be judged in any thought or opinion that they have or in any action that they take.
It doesn’t mean you agree with someone. Validation is taking the time to understand what their needs, wants, dreams and aspirations are.
So what should you do when people start spouting crazy talk? Here’s Robin:
What I prefer to try to do is, as soon as I hear something that I don’t necessarily agree with or understand, instead of judging it my first reaction is, “Oh, that’s really fascinating. I never heard it in quite that way. Help me understand. How did you come up with that?”
You’re not judging, you’re showing interest. And that lets people calmly continue talking about their favorite subject: themselves.
Studies show people get more pleasure from talking about themselves than they do from food or money:
Talking about ourselves—whether in a personal conversation or through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter—triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food or money…
(To learn how FBI hostage negotiators build rapport and trust, click here.)
So you’ve stopped being Judgy Judgerson and you’re happily validating. Oh, if it were only that easy… What’s the problem here? Your ego.
2) Suspend Your Ego To Make People Love You
Most of us are just dying to point out how other people are wrong. (Comment sections on the internet are fueled by this, aren’t they?)
And it kills rapport. Want to correct someone? Want to one-up them with your clever little story? Don’t do it.
Ego suspension is putting your own needs, wants and opinions aside. Consciously ignore your desire to be correct and to correct someone else. It’s not allowing yourself to get emotionally hijacked by a situation where you might not agree with someone’s thoughts, opinions or actions.
Contradicting people doesn’t build relationships. Dale Carnegie said it many years ago — and modern neuroscience agrees.
When people hear things that contradict their beliefs, the logical part of their mind shuts down and their brain prepares to fight.
So what happened in people’s brains when they saw information that contradicted their worldview in a charged political environment? As soon as they recognized the video clips as being in conflict with their worldview, the parts of the brain that handle reason and logic went dormant. And the parts of the brain that handle hostile attacks — the fight-or-flight response — lit up.
So you’ve stopped trying to be clever. But how do you get a reputation as a great listener?
3) How To Be A Good Listener
We’ve all heard that listening skills are vital but nobody explains the right way to do it. What’s the secret?
Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next and focus on what they’re saying right now.
Be curious and ask to hear more about what interests you.
Listening isn’t shutting up. Listening is having nothing to say. There’s a difference there. If you just shut up, it means you’re still thinking about what you wanted to say. You’re just not saying it. The second that I think about my response, I’m half listening to what you’re saying because I’m really waiting for the opportunity to tell you my story.
What you do is this: as soon as you have that story or thought that you want to share, toss it. Consciously tell yourself, “I am not going to say it.”
All you should be doing is asking yourself, “What idea or thought that they mentioned do I find fascinating and want to explore?”
Research shows just asking people to tell you more makes you more likable and gets them to want to help you.
The basics of active listening are pretty straightforward:
- Listen to what they say. Don’t interrupt, disagree or “evaluate.”
- Nod your head, and make brief acknowledging comments like “yes” and “uh-huh.”
- Without being awkward, repeat back the gist of what they just said, from their frame of reference.
- Inquire. Ask questions that show you’ve been paying attention and that move the discussion forward.
(To learn the listening techniques of FBI hostage negotiators, click here.)
I know, I know — some people are just boring. You’re not that interested in what they’re saying. So what questions do you ask then, smart guy?
4) The Best Question To Ask People
Life can be tough for everyone: rich or poor, old or young. Everyone.
We all face challenges and we like to talk about them. So that’s what to ask about.
A great question I love is challenges. “What kind of challenges did you have at work this week? What kind of challenges do you have living in this part of the country? What kinds of challenges do you have raising teenagers?” Everyone has got challenges. It gets people to share what their priorities in life are at that point in time.
Questions are incredibly powerful. What’s one of the most potent ways to influence someone? Merely asking for advice.
Via Adam Grant’s excellent Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:
Studies demonstrate that across the manufacturing, financial services, insurance, and pharmaceuticals industries, seeking advice is among the most effective ways to influence peers, superiors, and subordinates. Advice seeking tends to be significantly more persuasive than the taker’s preferred tactics of pressuring subordinates and ingratiating superiors. Advice seeking is also consistently more influential than the matcher’s default approach of trading favors.
Twisting your mustache thinking you can use this for nefarious purposes? Wrong, Snidely Whiplash. It only works when you’re sincere.
In her research on advice seeking, Liljenquist finds that success “depends on the target perceiving it as a sincere and authentic gesture.” When she directly encouraged people to seek advice as an influence strategy, it fell flat.
(For a list of the questions that can create a strong bond in minutes, click here.)
But what if you have to approach someone cold? How do you get people who might not want to talk to you to willingly give you their attention?
5) How To Make Strangers Feel At Ease
First thing: tell them you only have a minute because you’re headed out the door.
When people think you’re leaving soon, they relax. If you sit down next to someone at a bar and say, “Hey, can I buy you a drink?” their shields go way up. It’s “Who are you, what do you want, and when are you leaving?” That “when are you leaving” is what you’ve got to answer in the first couple of seconds.
Research shows just asking people if now is a good time makes them more likely to comply with requests:
The results showed that compliance rates were higher when the requester inquired about respondents’ availability and waited for a response than when he pursued his set speech without waiting and inquiring about respondents’ availability.
Nobody wants to feel trapped talking to some weirdo. People are more likely to help you than you think, but they need to feel safe and in control.
Even if you get all of the above right you can still come off like a shady used car salesman. And that fear stops you from meeting new awesome people.
Robin says one of the key reasons people come off as untrustworthy is because their words and their body language are misaligned. Let’s fix that.
6) The Best Body Language For Building Rapport
You words should be positive, free of ego and judgment — and your body language (“non-verbals”) needs to match.
Here are the things Robin recommends:
- “The number one thing is you’ve gotta smile. You absolutely have to smile. A smile is a great way to engender trust.”
- “Keep that chin angle down so it doesn’t appear like you’re looking down your nose at anyone. And if you can show a little bit of a head tilt, that’s always wonderful.”
- “You don’t want to give a full frontal, full body display. That could be very offensive to someone. Give a little bit of an angle.”
- “Keep your palms up as you’re talking, as opposed to palms down. That says, “I’m hearing what you’re saying. I’m open to what your ideas are.”
- “So I always want to make sure that I’m showing good, open, comfortable non-verbals. I just try to use high eyebrow elevations. Basically, anything going up and elevating is very open and comforting. Anything that is compressing: lip compression, eyebrow compression, where you’re squishing down, that’s conveying stress.”
Research backs him up. From Dale Carnegie to peer-reviewed studies, everyone says smiles matter. (In fact, to increase their power, smile slower.)
It makes us happier too. Neuroscience research shows smiling gives the brain as much pleasure as 2000 bars of chocolate — or $25,000.
Depending on whose smile you see, the researchers found that one smile can be as pleasurable and stimulating as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate! …it took up to 16,000 pounds sterling in cash to generate the same level of brain stimulation as one smile! This is equivalent to about $25,000 per smile…
So now you come off as the pleasant person you are, not as a scheming taker. But what do you do when the other person is a scheming taker?
7) How To Deal With Someone You Don’t Trust
The name of this blog is not “Helpful Tools For Sociopaths.” I’m not trying to teach you to manipulate others.
But what should do you do when you feel someone is using these methods to try and manipulate you?
Don’t be hostile but be direct: ask them what they want. What are their goals in this interaction?
The first thing I try to do is clarify goals. I’ll stop and say, “You’re throwing a lot of good words at me. Obviously you’re very skilled at what you’re doing. But what I’m really curious about… What’s your goal? What are you trying to achieve? I’m here with my goals, but obviously you have to achieve your goals. So if you can just tell me what your objectives are, we can start from there and see if we can mutually take care of them. If not, that’s fine too.”
I watch for validation. If someone is trying to validate me and my thoughts and opinions, I am alert to it. I love doing that as well. So now I’m looking for intent. Are you there for me or are you there for you? If you are there strictly for your own gain and you’re not talking in terms of my priorities ever, that’s when I’m seeing someone is there to manipulate me.
Want to build a connection with someone? Focus on trust, not tricks. That’s how you earn respect. Trust is fragile. And mistrust is self-fulfilling.
When you ask people what the most important character trait is, what do they say? Trustworthiness.
Participants in 3 studies considered various characteristics for ideal members of interdependent groups (e.g., work teams, athletic teams) and relationships (e.g., family members, employees). Across different measures of trait importance and different groups and relationships, trustworthiness was considered extremely important for all interdependent others…
That’s a lot more to digest than “Just be yourself” but far more effective. Let’s round it up and make it something you can start using today.
Here are Robin’s tips:
- The single most important thing is non-judgmental validation. Seek someone else’s thoughts and opinions without judging them.
- Suspend your ego. Focus on them.
- Really listen, don’t just wait to talk. Ask them questions; don’t try to come up with stories to impress.
- Ask people about what’s been challenging them.
- Establishing a time constraint early in the conversation can put strangers at ease.
- Smile, chin down, blade your body, palms up, open and upward non-verbals.
- If you think someone is trying to manipulate you, clarify goals. Don’t be hostile or aggressive, but ask them to be straight about what they want.
Robin’s a fascinating guy and we ended up speaking for over an hour, so the above is just part of what he had to say.