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How to build a deep connection with anyone

It’s not about what you know or even what you sell. Who you know is still the variable that separates astronomical success from the projects that fizzle out.

In what may be the biggest ever case of Easier-Said-Than-Done, almost every entrepreneur wonders: How do I go about the getting to know them part?

If you can’t rely on the silver spoon, alumni club or any other convenient leg ups then you need to study the art of connection. This article will show you how create rapid, powerful and lasting relationships with total strangers. 

The step before step one: Get talking

Rather than condescend to my readers, I’m going to assume a baseline of conversation starting ability. For more tips, check out my guide to networking – the key is to have an interesting project to discuss.

Once you’re talking, the connection building can begin in earnest. There’s only one principal you need to understand…

People like people who are like them

Rapport building was once the realm of pop-psychology alone but recent studies, many of them popularized by authors like Dan Pink and Robert Cialdini, have eliminated the guesswork and reliance on anecdotal evidence.

We now know, thanks to papers like the one titled “Chameleons Bake Bigger pies and Take Bigger Pieces” (boring link) that humans are hard wired to accelerate trust building when they meet the familiar.

The accepted theory boils down to our need figure out who, beyond our closest family, we can rely on for survival. As prehistoric social groups swelled in size, humans began developing more sophisticated acuity – tools to identify the subtle and unconscious behaviors that betray a stranger as “one of us” or “not to be trusted”.

When you meet a stranger, their unconscious mind immediately queries: Is this person like me? Is he a member of the group I identify with? 

Few cocktail parties offer the opportunity to discuss the meaning of life within seconds, so the unconscious mind gauges body language and tonality in lieu of a deeper assessment. Here lies the opportunity for you to instantly create a charismatic connection. 

Sophisticated mimicry is key. The wizards behind Neuro Linguistic Programming call it “mirroring” and deplore obvious aping or parroting.

You can start by mirroring the following behaviors:

  • Eye contact
  • Hand gestures
  • Posture of lower body (stance/leg position)
  • Curvature of the spine (this is critical when sitting)
  • Breathing tempo
  • Verbal pace
  • Length of pauses between words

If that sounds impossible, you need to know that this is a dance. Mirroring hand gestures doesn’t mean you should punctuate their conversational points with jazz hands at the precise moment they do. That would be idiotic. Instead, listen and subtly move your head and neck when they wave their arms. Then when it’s your turn to talk, move your hands in a similar way.

In other words, make them feel you’re the same kind of person as they are. 

Each opportunity is doable when you frame it as a dance. Mirror the amount of eye contact, don’t match their every glance. Legs are easy – most people abandon all consciousness of their lower body posture when in conversation. Breathing seems impossible until you realize people breath out when they talk and in when they don’t.

You might feel this detailed deconstruction of a conversation is bordering on sleazy. You could be correct, but only if your goals themselves are sleazy.

Creating connection is merely a means to an end. Learning this stuff just makes you an effective communicator, not some kind of dark Jedi.

The weirdest thing is that doing this stuff increases empathy whether you like it or not. 

I’ve taught these techniques to hundreds of my clients and thousands of corporate sales people and managers. The vast majority of them report that consciously using rapport techniques makes them feel more intimately connected to their conversational partner. The more they connect, the more they care.

This is because most of us aren’t sociopaths and these techniques are double-edged. People like people who are like them. And, as you morph yourself to be like someone you meet, you’ll find yourself starting to LIKE them!

The advanced mind control techniques begin here

As conversations progress and relationships extend over time, the significance of body language diminishes (note: It never quite goes away), to be replaced by values and beliefs.

Our closest friends, colleagues and confidants are those whom we share a similar view of the world. People who see as we see and hold as important that which we value.

To connect at this level you need to develop powerful flexibility. To get along with anyone, you’ve got to be able to step into their shoes and consider the world from their perspective.

Presenting a bullet pointed how-to guide on this topic would be an injustice. The secret, at this stage, is to let the “techniques” fade into the background and focus on opening your heart while considering theirs. The requirement is to suspend your own concerns, fears and needs and wholeheartedly meditate on their perspective.

A great friend of mine repeats the mantra “I want nothing from you but everything for you”, as a way of grounding herself before key social interactions. As a philosophy, it sets the stage for you to peel back the layers to connect with people’s true selves.

Overwhelmed? Here’s a tangible first step: When you’ve built initial rapport using the techniques in this article, make it your mission to simply identify your conversational partner’s beliefs and values. Just ask.

Find out what matters to the people you want to know better. Then care about it.

8 Comments

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  1. Gee, Peter, this seems like an awful lot of work just to get sales. If it’s not going to pay off in the first 5-10 minutes, it isn’t worth my time. (wink, wink) I was hoping for hypnosis training of some kind.

  2. Due to the nature of my business (wigs for hairloss), a lot of customers are nervous, unsure and shy. I’ve had customers break down and sob, people who are trembling from nerves… you name it, it’s definitely happened! At first it was a little surprising, but getting to know and understand my customers has helped me develop ways to make sure they know I care, comprehend what they are going through and offer a comforting and professional hand. Some competitors are ‘just a wig shop’ and they want people to BUY BUY BUY. Sure, I want people to buy something, but I really want them to strut out of my salon knowing they have THE best hair they could have ever imagined.

    Becoming their friend is absolutely the best way to go – From the moment they come in, things are set up in a way to relax and calm them… The lighting is just right, there are fragrance burners with soft amber and vanilla scents, the music is chilled out and ambient. As soon as they come in, I get straight down to finding out more about them… It’s interesting!! People LOVE to tell you about themselves, and it helps you get to know them and their needs.

    The first thing I ask if if they found the place okay, and how the traffic was. Everyone hates traffic, so it’s nice to bond over something simple. Bringing them through to the display area, we generally let them have a quick look around and marvel at the range etc – And then from there I suppose it’s a matter of making light of something, joking a little and helping them settle in. If you can make them laugh, you have a bit more of a closeness with them without it being creepy! Generally I have a crazy pink wig and recommend that if we don’t find them the perfect style, we have the trusty pink bob to fall back on. If you can get them to try it on (it’s easier than you’d think!) you have totally sorted the mood out and helped them overcome the nerves and confusion.

    In a way, I really am their friend – I am helping them make a decision, I am honest with them about what looks good, and I truly want them to have the best experience possible.

    Being an online business also, our emails to customers are also vital. None of this canned stuff – I ask how their weekend was, I tell them I hope their Monday has been amazing despite the heinous weather… Personalising and remembering your customer makes them feel special, like they are important to you and they will always come back. Letting them know about upcoming styles in advance ‘lets them in’ behind the scenes a little, so they get the upper hand, a special peek that is exclusive to them… Even a grouchy customer who is endlessly annoyed will get superstar cheerful treatment, no matter what they say. I try and avoid “business” toned emails – No one likes that! They get “Sure, absolutely – I’d love to sort this out for you.” instead of “I would be more than glad to assist with your enquiry” etc.

    If I were to get customers in and out ASAP and be blunt, it would be harsh on the customers and remove the special connection they end up having when they shop with us… I can safely say everyone that has come to visit my store will remember it and tell more people about us, and a friend of a lovely customer is sure to be lovely too.

    Some of my customers have been coming back for years, and they really do feel like friends – you know a lot about them, you learn about their kids and pets, you remember what they like to order and ensure you have it out ready on their arrival, and keep an extra in stock for ‘just in case’… These repeat customers are the ones that really make your business what it is, and the moment you stop being thankful for them coming to you is the moment you’re going to lose them.

  3. Spot on Peter.

    To me, the most important part is the “advanced mind technique” that you mentioned.

    To put it simply, people like people who THINK like them.

    This could be in values and beliefs. But it could also be in likes or dislikes.

    What sort of car that you drive, a love for a certain food etc.

    The physical appearance is mainly window dressing. We identify with people who look like us because we believe that they have certain common beliefs, cultures and experiences, thanks to the fact that our brains simply haven’t caught up to the fact that within the past couple centuries humans have become INCREDIBLY mobile.

    If you can convince someone that they THINK like you, that you share a set of beliefs, values, likes and dislikes, then suddenly rapport becomes SO much easier.

    1. people like people who THINK like them.

      This. You are 100% correct and said it way better than I did. Of course, the classic example of this is the “we like the same things!” phase new couples go through when they’re rapport building.

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