We all know that people prefer to do business with people they like.  Not life changing information.

Research tells us that we tend to like people who are similar to us. We tend to like people who pay us compliments.  And we tend to like people who cooperate with us toward mutual goals.  That’s why, in every single coaching process we have created, the first step is always called “Build Affinity”.

Yet, for some reason, many people overlook the importance of this idea as “a waste of time” or “non mission critical”.  We’d argue the opposite.  The affinity step of the process is always mission critical, here’s why.

Unique Insight:

In a series of negotiation studies from MBA students from two very well-known business schools, each school was given two different negotiation approaches.  One school gave their students the instruction that “Time is money, get down to business when you negotiate”.  With this group, they found that Around 55% were able to come to an agreement in their negotiations.  Not bad.

The second group was given this instruction:  Before you begin negotiating, invest time exchanging personal information with each other and identify a similarity you share in common, and then begin the negotiation process using the negotiation techniques.  With this group, 90% of them were able to come to successful and agreeable outcomes that were typically worth 18% more to both parties.  Yes, that’s right.  A 35% increase with one simple adjustment? This might be worth looking into.

What Most People Do:

To build rapport, most people say, “how are you”, or “how was your weekend”, and then check the “Affinity” box and move on to the next step in the process.  This is so weak and totally unimpressive.  Come on.  We’re leaders not first-graders.  If that’s your affinity technique, you can see how this is a total waste of everybody’s time. Amateur hour is over and it is time to start doing this instead:

Example Questions to Build Real Affinity:

  • I saw on LinkedIn that you went to (school name).  That’s impressive! What did you like most about your (school name) experience?
  • I know you have been in this industry for a while, what brought you here in the first place and what advice do you have for making an impact over such a long period of time?
  • I’m buying a book for one of my team-member’s (milestone year) any specific recommendations for me?
  • Lately, your success with (insert specific metric) has skyrocketed.  To what do you attribute your recent success and what advice do you have for me to start seeing similar results?
  • I’m putting together a list of must read/listen to leadership insights for my peers, what needs to be on this list?
  • You seem to manage your time really well with such a busy schedule.  What are your secret productivity best-practices?

Based on the above list of affinity questions, you can see that the “affinity question sweet-spot” is found when you combine these three elements:

  1. I have done my research or I have paid attention to you
  2. I am giving you a compliment
  3. I am asking for your advice or insight

When you can combine those three elements into one question, you’ll start to truly build affinity and understand why this simple technique can have a 35% improvement rate on the outcomes of your meetings. Be great!



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