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IN A NUTSHELL
We are not drawn to people by rational assessment, but emotional factors. People who connect better tend to be more successful, have more friends and work in teams that are more productive.
In a world where building the quality of relationships is critical how can one improve one’s ability to build rapport?
5 accelerators have been identified: Vulnerability, Proximity, Resonance, Similarity, and Safety.
At the Stanford University MBA (renown for its courses on finance, statistics, economics), the most popular course is ‘Interpersonal Dynamics’ – it recognises the importance of relationships in business.
There are 5 accelerators of rapport building: Vulnerability, Proximity, Resonance, Similarity, and Safety.
The power of ‘vulnerability’
Revealing our inner fears, weaknesses, builds trust because we are putting ourselves at emotional, psychological or even physical risk (metaphorically exposing our neck to them). It’s when we start to talk about how we ‘feel’ about something do we really start to engage at a deeper level with other people.
Conversation types can be categorized into 5 types:
-Phatic – Social niceties (e.g. “How are you?” “Nice to see you”). These are fillers (and the response is not particularly important).
-Factual – Where we seek and share (harmless) bytes of information (“I live in London”, “What do you do for a living?”).
-Evaluative – Where we express an opinion on something (e.g. “That movie was really funny”, “I don’t like her new haircut”). If the other person agrees/disagrees with our point of view then it could affect our relationship with them (we are more drawn to people who share our values).
-Gut-level – Where we reveal our feelings about something (e.g. “I’m sad you are not coming with us”). We usually limit these conversations to only the closest people we know. However, used appropriately, they can be very powerful with a wider selection of people.
-Peak – These are the highest level of emotional states that often reveal our deepest innermost thoughts, values and feelings (e.g. “I was really hurt when you said I wouldn’t make a good father”). The deeper we go, the deeper the engagement we can make.
-Post 9/11. One of the authors ran a workshop with leading CEO’s who wanted to help make a difference. He first started off asking them what was their best and worst moment in their lives. But it was through discussing the worst moments that the team really connected.
-Students were randomly assigned together and given lists of questions to ask each other. One group were given some very basic transactional type questions, whilst the other group were given a set of questions that started shallow and then slowly delved into a deeper set of more revealing questions (such as ‘what are your most treasured memories?’ Through to ‘Whose death in your family would you find most disturbing?’)
Not only did they feel they had formed a closer bond, but months later they reported a retained sense of bonding.
-Researcher, Susan Hendrick found that self-disclosure was associated with higher levels of marital satisfaction. Likewise, Match.com found those that revealed more were more successful in their relationship.
-Research amongst Harvard students found that if one revealed a personal story first, it was more likely to elicit a similar level of insight from the other person.
-In the 1992 Presidential elections, Clinton was trailing badly behind George Bush and Ros Perrot. He was seen as irrelevant. Clinton then went on the talk shows, and told people about his personal life: his childhood; being raided by a single parent; his alcoholic stepfather; a drug addict brother. In short he became vulnerable – but he also became human. He formed a deeper personal connection with people who found him easier to identify with than his billionaire contenders. By the end of his talk show campaign his rating had shot up form 33% to 77% – in just one month.
It is scary to reveal stuff (and feels count-cultural), but when we reveal to the right amount, at the right time it can transform a relationship.
The power of ‘proximity’
The physically closer people are, the emotionally closer they are likely to become – you can’t start a conversation across a crowded floor.
-The Florida Gaters basketball team was known as being a no hope team – in 50 years the Gators had failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament even once. But their fortunes were reversed by a random act of student accommodation. Four of their players were housed in the same dorm. Thus they spent a lot of time together – and hence got to know each other really well – they ‘clicked’. On court, the four communicated well, supported each other and were attuned to each other’s strengths and weaknesses. With this combination at the heart of the team, they went on to win the NCAA tournament two years in a row.
Talented as they were, none of them were superstars in their own right. When they left college and moved into the NBA, they went to different teams, and none of them achieved the level of success they had shown when they had been together.
-Segal from Eastern Michigan undertook research amongst military recruits to understand what are the factors that help people click. She found it was not the normal convergence data (such as religion, age, ethnic background, social-economics etc) but their name. This was because they were more likely to sit together in the classrooms, so were able to develop conversations together. Sit even a couple of chairs away, and the chance of forming a friendship diminishes rapidly.
-Leon Festinger undertook research in the relationships formed between the dorms in MIT. He found throughout the years, those in the dorms at the end of the corridors were more likely to be ‘outsiders’ with few connections, whilst those students living in the middle of the complex were more likely to be the most popular people, with a large number of connections (personality tests showed these people not noticeably different from the others, and rooms were randomly assigned). The key was the people at the end of the corridors had fewer potential connections whilst those at the hub had a lot more.
The growth of digital connectivity through Face Book, emails, twitter etc does not create powerful connections (digital allows for lots of misunderstanding which personal contact irons out).
Proximity significantly affected collaborations (the closer they sat together the more likely they worked together – even when they discounted the effects of people working on the same team/project).
One of the key findings is that proximity leads to spontaneous communication – i.e. unplanned, ordinary conversations (any relationship always start out from such humble mutterings about the weather etc which is itself often preceded by passive communication cues such as a nod, a smile, a wave) – as one friendly conversation begets the next and so on. In today’s busy work schedule, some people strip out these types of conversations (yet they play a critical role in building relationships – and can set the tone/outcome of the meeting).
-Research by Bell telecoms found that those scientists that collaborated on projects via distanced relationships publish less.
-MIT’s Sloan School undertook research amongst work teams inside organisations. Teams that were physically sat close together liked each other more and experienced less task related conflicts than those teams that were spread out. They found it was the daily ‘banter’ that oiled the wheels of the relationships and kept it on track in the tougher conversations.
-In an experiment, four women were selected on the basis of being the same level of attractiveness to male students. The four women then attended university lectures. One attended 15 lectures, another 10, the third 5 and the last none. In the lectures they were only to take notes and not converse with anyone. They had to arrive early and sit at the front and then leave by the rear exit. At the end of term the students were shown pictures of the four women. Only 10% recognised them. Yet subconsciously they had left a mark: The woman’s perceived attractiveness, and how interesting, unselfish, popular etc they were perceived to be was in direct relation to their attendance level.
The power of ‘resonance’
The more we emotionally or energetically connect with a person the deeper the resonance.
In Flow – Some people are just natural connectors. These people find other people interesting and are energised by them. Somehow they create magical connections – one feels ’touched’. They create a magnetic affiliation that draws us back to them.
Being in the zone with another person is a most powerful level of connection. The outside world evaporates away – time seems to slip away effortlessly.
When there is this ‘sense’ of connection, there is an energy flow. Indeed, there is a sense of euphoria as dopamines are released.
High self-monitors – It seems people who connect better are highly attuned into their environment and modulate their behaviour to suit the prevailing personalities/environment – a bit chameleon like (whilst still being true to who they are).
They also try to meet someone at the same level – neither superior nor inferior to them – being non judgemental – they allow the other person to be who they are. They drop their own ‘stuff’ and so they can be there for the other person. They make other people feel special.
-Research amongst MBA graduates found that those with strong people skills (high monitoring) tend to do better in their careers (they tended to be more likely to be offered jobs in other organizations, leading to a more rapid promotion). Their ability to adapt to environments and people quickly – and in a fluid manner – is what set them apart. These people also tend to be at the centre of social networks. In research, it has been shown that in just18 months, a high self-monitor is able to develop the same quality of inter-relationships that a low self-monitor takes 13 years to achieve
Research has uncovered that high self-monitors ‘mirror’ or ‘match’ the other person’s body language (and their emotional & energy state) more than low self-monitors do. It is because they naturally (and unconsciously) have a desire to connect that this happens.
Emotions are contagious. We have ‘mirror’ neurones that recreate the outside world inside of us (and hence helps us empathise).
Building resonance lives on a sliding scale – from disengagement through to ‘transformative presence’ – the few times when a connection remains powerfully with the person – it touches the person in a profound and unique manner.
We talk about being ‘present’ (and through being present we create presence). There are four components of being ‘present’:
-Intentionality – It’s about being totally focused with all senses on the other person – it’s a mindset of giving – of being there for them (and not for ourselves).
-Mutuality – It’s about being open and available to meet them where they are (not where we are). It’s about respecting their map of reality in a non-judgmental way. It acknowledges and validates them.
–Individuality – It’s about being authentic and aware of our own feelings.
-Attentiveness – This requires active listening and really understanding where they are coming from (it’s about being in ‘receive’ mode rather than ‘transmit’).
We need to connect into what is important in them. Mike Welch, a stand up comedian says the point of connection is the point of attention. Whatever is filling a person’s mind is clearly the most important thing for them at that point in time.
-Lidia Bastianich, a TV chef was asked to prepare a meal for Pope Benedict XVI. She cooked him foods from his childhood – Chicken soup, Kugel and Strudel. He said after the meal “These are the flavours of my mother”. She had made a meal that transcended food – it connected with him at a deeper level.
Touch (appropriate e.g. on shoulder or arm) also helps lead to closer connection. Likewise, the ability to maintain appropriate levels of eye contact helps build rapport (vs. the person who rarely makes eye contact – or even the person who stares us out).
The power of ‘similarity’
The more we have in common, the more we will connect.
Research found the higher the number of similarities between two people, the greater the likelihood of liking one another – irrespective of the level of the attribute (i.e. high order values such as religion were no more important in defining likeability than lower order interests such as liking jazz music. Thus finding any point of similarity with another person helps improve connection.
-In an experiment, participants took part in a bogus exercise. As they left they were asked for a donation to cystic fibrosis by a person wearing a name badge sharing their same first name. When compared to a base level (where no badge was worn), donation levels were doubled.
-Likewise, sharing the same birth date got people to participate in a time consuming, non beneficial exercise at almost double the rate (33% agreed when no shared date vs. 62% when shared same birthday). When another similarity was introduced (this time they both shared a special finger print style, this figure rose to 80%.
-Further experiments have revealed in business, that salesmen are more successful selling to people who are most similar to themselves.
The power of ‘safety’
The safer we feel with another person/environment the more likely we are to open up. And conversely, the more unsafe the outside environment, the more it pushes us together.
We have an innate desire to belong and be part of groups. A key part of being a member of a group is the trust that needs to be between the members of that team. It’s key to create a safe environment that allows people to be vulnerable (and so connect better). The greater the trust, the stronger the bonds. And when that trust is broken, then the team becomes weakened.
Critically, it was not a case of them being all ‘nicey-nicey’ with each other (yes they are more energetic and support each other more). In teams constructed where people did not know each other were more congenial with each other, not wanting to offend – there was very little conflict. Thus ideas were not vigorously challenged, leading to sub-optimal decision making. However, in those teams of people who had already clicked together, they were much more robust in their arguments with each other (as the level of trust previously developed allowed a more open, honest and expansive conversation – without becoming personal). Furthermore, if we are in a team that clicks, it makes it more enjoyable – even dull tasks.
-Research by The Kellogg’s Management School has shown that in teams that ‘click’ together, perform better by a sizeable margin (they performed 20% more tasks and were 70% more accurate).
-Murningham & Conlon studied why some string quartets work better than others. One of the key conclusions they found was the level of communication between the four players (both talking and critically listening). This helped built a deeper emotional understanding and connection. They supported each other but were also able to handle the difficult conversations when it mattered. And those quartets that clicked recorded more albums, received 5x the level of reviews and were able to charge twice the level of admission.
Research has shown that intense emotional experiences can also pull people together. Having a shared adversity helps e.g. during the depression or 2nd World War people came together – we cling together against the outside world.
Furthermore, when we are part of team (whose boundaries are clearly delineated) with a shared purpose this also helps bring people together (often with a focus more on those outside the groups than inside a group (it’s them vs. us). It’s the ‘danger’ of the ‘them’ that makes ‘us’.
-Eder & Chipp found war veterans who experienced deadly combat were nearly twice as likely to maintain long-term friendships as those who did not face death.
This book is an easy read and in my mind, covers a very important of how to get along with other people. It follows the Gladwell/Lehrer genre of bringing to life the facts through research and real stories (but less convincingly than these other authors).
This book is a collection of good, common sense principles but with few groundbreaking insights. There were a number of annoying research findings that are predictable – even bordering on the trite (e.g. people prefer those similar to themselves, or we share many similarities with people we spend the most time with!)
But the reality, ‘clicking’ with others cannot be reduced to a number of simple ‘success factors’ (something every business book tries to do). For me it is about a mindset – a personal set of beliefs and values one holds about other people. Otherwise, the attempted connection is not authentic and people sense that a mile away!