Looking For Uncommon Commonalities

They can take your relationships to a different level.

For most of us, every single day we're approached by someone trying to ask us a favor, sell us a product, secure a donation. How rational or thoughtful are you when responding to these? According to social science, not at all.

Following Heuristics

A growing body of research suggests that, instead of considering costs and benefits and analyzing the requester’s arguments, we typically rely on scripts or heuristics to guide our response. These "cues" lead us to accept a request more often when they indicate that the person is someone we usually say yes to.

There are several examples that we're more likely to say yes to people when:

  • Requesters are dressed like us (Emswiller, Deaux, & Willits, 1971);
  • Requesters are physically attractive (Reingen & Kernan, 1993);
  • Requesters have recently done us a favor (Burger, Horita, Kinoshita, Roberts, & Vera, 1997);
  • Requesters interact with us using first names (Garrity & Degelman, 1990).

While presenting these cues to your prospects is clearly not enough to sell your consulting services, they do matter.

When the relationship between you is in its early stages, you will often need to ask them for their time. To introduce yourself. To chat and explore issues.

Likability plays a big role in your prospects decision on whether to invest in the relationship or not.

The Power Of Uncommon Commonalities

One of my favorite publications on this topic is "What a Coincidence! The Effects of Incidental Similarity on Compliance", by Burger et al. It shows the importance of finding and highlighting things in common with prospects, clients, and partners.

The results are striking:

  • Participants who believed they shared a birthday, a first name, or fingerprint similarities with a requester were more likely to comply with a request than participants who did not perceive an incidental similarity with the requester.
  • The more uncommon was the similarity, the more often participants complied with the requester.
  • Participants did not increase compliance when hearing about an incidental similarity with someone other than the requester, or when they believed the feature they shared with the requester was common.

You might notice that your birthday, first name, and fingerprint are all irrelevant here. No one would pick them as reliable indicators of your competence or personality. But still, they all play a role to help us connect with someone else.

What's the takeaway for you? Sometimes you need to put your methodologies and ROI calculations aside for a while, and look for ways to connect on a personal level.

Be more specific with things you share. Ask more specific questions.

When a prospect asks how your weekend was, share you played golf with friends or how you just started renovating your house. When a client says they're back from holidays, ask where they went and what the best part of the trip was. Be interested and open up.

That's where we might stumble upon uncommon commonalities.

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