There's a tension at the heart of human psychology -- we love flattery but we hate fakery. Which is both a challenge and and an opportunity for networkers.

When meeting a new acquaintance, the best way to cement your relationship is to express your admiration for the other person, but fail to do so convincingly and you'll be instantly labeled a kiss-up and disliked accordingly.

So how do the world's best relationship builders walk this tightrope? How do they manage to boost the egos of those they meet without coming across as inauthentic? Science recently uncovered the answer, and happily it's a trick just about anyone can use to level up their networking skills.

We like those who are like us.

If you're an idealist, you might say that the solution to the above conundrum is easy -- just be honest and only express admiration for people you actually admire. But the world isn't so simple. Sometimes you're meeting someone with the explicit hope of getting them to help you, and you need to be convincing whether or not you have instant rapport. Which is just the sort of scenario the authors of a recent article in the Academy of Management Journal examined.

In order to uncover the secret of the world's best networkers, the researchers followed 278 directors of large U.S. companies who were lobbying other executives for a a nomination to a new board position. The directors were surveyed about how they thought about the key contacts they were meeting so that the research team could correlate specific mental strategies with results. Which ways of thinking about networking ended up landing participants the most real-life board seats?

Here's how The British Psychological Society Research Digest blog sums up the results: "The data showed that the more a participant had turned their thoughts towards what they had in common with the other director, the more their ingratiation behaviors paid off--they were more likely to get an invitation to join the board in the months that followed."

This strategy of searching for common ground before a meeting was particularly effective when a new contact was more obviously dissimilar from a director, for example when a young black woman meeting with an older white man spent time considering their career parallels before their get together.

This works because humans are primed to like those who are like us. Which means that when we ponder our similarities with another person, our opinion of them naturally rises, making our complimentary behavior feel more genuine.

Three times more charming?

And the payoff of this approach wasn't small. "Those following this strategy to its fullest were nearly three times more likely to get a recommendation," notes BPS. Which means, as the post points out, "these results aren't only relevant for top dogs trying to bound their way further up the hierarchy."

Anyone looking to boost their chances of really connecting with a valuable new contact can give themselves a leg up but adopting this simple trick -- before you walk into the meeting spend some time considering what you and your new connection have in common, no matter how different you might seem at first blush. That will help you come across as naturally warm and admiring.

Published on: Jul 14, 2016
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