Like a lot of people who end up being great at their job, Robin Dreeke became obsessed with learning how to better connect with people because initially, he wasn’t very good at it.
As his career advanced, this drive served him well. Prior to starting his own executive coaching business, People Formula, Robin led the FBI’s Counterintelligence Behavioral Analysis Program.
When it comes to creating connections with people and building trust, Robin’s learnings run deep.
1. Establish artificial time constraints
Think back to the last time a stranger started a conversation with you. If you’re anything like me, you probably felt uncomfortable. This isn’t a coincidence. As a survival mechanism, we’re hard-wired to gauge if the people around us are a threat or not.
Fortunately, according to Robin, there is a very simple way to make people feel more comfortable: let them know you won’t be taking up much of their time.
“The first step in the process of developing great rapport and having great conversations is letting the other person know that there is an end in sight, and it is really close.” — Robin Dreeke
As someone who recently moved to a new town, this tip has been as good as gold when it comes to quickly starting conversations with people around me.
- “I’m meeting my wife in a few minutes. But I’m curious about the book you are reading….”
- “I have to get to a meeting. I have a quick question….”
Not only do these simple phrases help people to relax. But I’ve also found they bring more energy to the interaction as they know the conversation won’t be dragging on.
2. Accommodating nonverbals
Demonstrating superhero posture with our chins held high has its place and science has shown it helps to give us a confidence boost. When meeting new people, however, this can also be intimidating and we’re much better served to focus on looking as accomodating and non-threatening as possible.
To accomplish this remember Robin’s suggestions:
- Tilt your head a bit to the side and drop your chin a pinch so you don’t run the risk of looking down on people.
- Stand at an angle or a bit to the side to give people the freedom to move so they don’t feel trapped.
- And of course, smile.
“When you walk into a room with a bunch of strangers, are you naturally drawn to those who look angry and upset or those with smiles and laughing? Smiling is the number one nonverbal technique you should utilize to look more accommodating.” — Robin Dreeke
3. Slower rate of speech
Imagine someone came up to you on the street, blocked your path by standing directly in front of you, and began speaking rapidly. Now imagine the same person came up to you but instead of getting in your way and speaking a mile a minute, they stood a bit to your side and spoke in a calm and cool manner.
If you’re anything like me, in the first instance your internal radar would be on red alert whereas the second scenario would make you feel more relaxed.
Research has shown that speaking rapidly in certain situations can give you credibility and even make you sound more intelligent. The goal, however, when meeting new people is to make them feel comfortable. From Robin’s learnings, to accomplish this we are better off speaking slower than normal and pausing at times to give people space to absorb what we are saying.
4. Sympathy of assistance theme
Think back to a time when someone asked you for a quick favor. Maybe they asked you to hold their place in line or asked you to help them carry their luggage up the steps in the train station.
If you’re like most people, you were happy to oblige and in some cases, this even led to a quick friendly exchange.
From Robin’s experience, he has found no greater tool for getting to know people than asking for assistance or being of assistance. Just make a point to make it easy for the other person to comply by making the request simple, of limited duration, and non-threatening.
“As human beings, we are biologically conditioned to accommodate requests for assistance. The compulsion is based upon the fact that our ancient ancestors knew that if they did not provide assistance when asked, the assistance would not be granted to them if requested at a later date.” — Robin Dreeke
5. Ego suspension
I asked a friend how his writing was going and he replied that many of his recent articles had gone viral. Instead of digging in for details, however, I told him about a run I went on last year that netted similar results.
Needless to say, this mistake — that definitely could have been avoided if I had removed my ego from the equation — sucked all the air out of the conversation.
Putting your ego aside and focusing solely on the wants, needs, and opinions of people around you isn’t always easy. But it’s worth being mindful of. Most people don’t care nearly as much about your story as they do their own and they certainly don’t like to be “one-upped” or corrected.
According to Robin, people who allow others to continue talking without taking their own turn are generally regarded as the best conversationalists. Not only that, but people who can successfully suspend their egos are also sought after when friends or family need someone to listen without judgment.
Approach each conversation as a learning opportunity. Seek out the stories of others. Remind yourself that good things happen when we prioritize our two ears over our ego.
6. Validate others
During her last show, Oprah Winfrey shared her secret for getting people to open up to her: “I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show and all 30,000 had one thing in common. They all wanted validation.”
Robin’s learnings mirror that of Oprah’s and to begin building your validation muscle, he recommends keeping the 3 points below in mind:
- Listening: The fastest way to improve your listening skills is to simply put your own agenda on hold. As Robin said — “When the focus is on the other person and we’re not anxious to tell our own story, we also tend to remember the details. We’re mindful.”
- Thoughtfulness: Again, this doesn’t have to be a big thing. Little gestures like offering someone a mint, a tissue, or even hand-sanitizer (given the recent mess we have all found ourselves in) can go a long way in building rapport.
- Validate thoughts and opinions: When someone says something that you may not agree with, instead of shutting them down, Robin recommends saying a variation of this phrase instead — “Oh, that’s really interesting. I never heard it in quite that way. Help me understand. How did you come up with that?”
7. Ask… How? When? Why?
A few months ago I opened up my email and staring back at me was a request to have a chat with someone whose work I greatly admire. Prior to the call, I was a ball of nerves and I wrote out a ton of questions to help me feel more prepared. But when the call I ended I realized I didn’t get a chance to ask any of them. The reason for this is simple: the woman kept the focus entirely on me.
“Why do you do what you do?”
“When did you start writing?”
“How did having a stutter shape your career?”
In short, she did everything Robin outlined in his book and it made me feel like a crisp hundred dollar bill:
“Once the individual being targeted in the conversation supplies more words and thoughts, a great conversationalist will utilize the content given and continue to ask open-ended questions about the same content.” — Robin Dreeke
8. Connect with quid pro quo
Robin doesn’t use this technique all the time. In fact, if the other techniques are working, he doesn’t use it at all. There are two instances, however, where quid pro quo (aka give a little to get a little) can come in handy —
- When someone is either very introverted, guarded or both
- When someone becomes very aware of how much they have been speaking, and they suddenly feel awkward.
Remember this the next time you are speaking with someone who is reserved or becomes long-winded. By leaking details about your own experiences, you may find they are open to continuing to talk about their own.
Just be cautious to not overuse this technique as you run the risk of the conversation moving more in your direction when the focus should always be on the other person.
9. Gift giving (Reciprocal altruism)
Ego suspension and gift-giving according to Robin are the cornerstones of people who are great at building relationships.
Sincere compliments are always nice. The same goes for thoughtful follow-up messages after you’ve met someone or being attentive and offering someone a material gift like a mint, as mentioned above.
According to Robin, however, one of the most valuable gifts we can give to another human being is our “focus.” After all, as human beings, we all like different things, but one of the few things we have in common is we love to know that our voice is being heard and we are truly seen.
10. Manage expectations
We’ve all experienced at one time or another going into a conversation with high expectations and we walked away feeling disappointed. We’ve also all experienced the flip-side of this situation where it was clear the person you were speaking with wanted something from you.
We all have agendas. The key to building trust with people, however, is to put our own wants, needs, dreams, and opinions on hold to better learn about the person we are speaking with. After all, the most valuable people take the time to understand what other people value.
“The individuals in life that are able to either mask their agenda or shift the agenda to something altruistic will have great success at building rapport.” — Robin Dreeke
Tying it all together
Trust is the key ingredient that ties all great relationships together. It’s the glue. The beauty of Robin’s teaching is he provides very simple, yet actionable advice and reminders that we can all use in our day-to-day conversations to built trust with the people around us.
Focus on helping people to feel more comfortable by letting them know you won’t be taking up much of their time and speak slowly while using friendly body language.
Hold back the urge to share your story and ask open-ended questions to better learn about the experiences and opinions of others.
Lastly, listen to people and give them 100 percent of your presence.
In short, remind yourself of the title of Robin’s book — “It’s Not All About Me.”