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Friendly is Nice. It’s Not Persuasive.


The Friendship Trigger

Manners, niceties, friendliness – these table-stakes behaviors do not activate the Friendship Trigger for the purposes of influence and persuasion.

Nearly every sales training program highlights the importance of “establishing rapport,” which is often characterized as “greasing the wheel” or “softening the beachhead” for smoother, easier interactions. Manners, niceties, friendliness are all important for setting a congenial tone. But aside from knocking on the door of the emotional brain, this table-stakes behavior does not actually activate the Friendship Trigger for the purposes of influence and persuasion.

In his book, The Relationship Edge, my colleague, Jerry Acuff, sets out a very useful framework of professional relationship “levels,” which can be used to calculate the degree of influence your particular kind of relationship with someone may actually have. It’s no surprise that the more substantive the relationship – the more meaningful it is, the more depth and history it has – the easier it is to get agreement and compliance.

In many professional situations, however, a wide variety of circumstances make it impractical to develop or even pursue deeper relationship levels.

How, then, can we activate the Friendship Trigger for the purpose of getting more support, compliance, or agreement when the nature of the relationship is essentially superficial?

The answer is quite simple: Go beyond the general and get specific with what you are able to learn and discuss with the other person. Keep in mind that getting specific doesn’t mean getting personal. It means, for example, learning the names of your customer’s kids, not just that she has them.

The difference between someone who, in a subsequent encounter, uses names – “how are Tanisha and Raymond?” – instead a of general reference – “how are your kids? – is HUGE when it comes to how the emotional brain reacts. Tons of people ask about someone’s kids. Far fewer ask by name. It gets noticed.

This is why it’s so critical to keep detailed notes, and check those notes prior to an encounter. Don’t just log that Kumar likes rugby. Note the team he roots for and next time ask about them specifically.

The other person isn’t going to question or wonder how you knew or remembered such detail, they’re only going to log a Friendship Trigger in their emotional brain…. “Wow, that person is so thoughtful. They must really care.”