Have a look around at the people near you.

Your brain has already classified each of them as either

  • A friend
  • An enemy
  • A potential partner or
  • Your indifferent to them

Scientists have discovered that a part of our brain, called the amygdala, rapidly scans every piece of information our brain receives. Its prime purpose is to determine the answer to one question:

Can I eat it, or is it going to eat me?

Every decision we make is first based on a survival check. In the world we live in today we don’t have lions walking the street; we live mostly in a world of symbolic threats. “She is dissing me”, “I best be nice to the boss”, “I better get there on-time”

Our amygdala calls on our past life experiences of pleasure and pain to quickly categorize the people we meet. Our initial interactions are viewed through one of these four lenses.

As a leader, a sales person, or even a jobseeker, you want to build instant rapport with those around you. It’s much easier to catch a bee with honey, hence being seen as a friend is your goal.

Being seen as a friend

Going back to a basic survival instinct, friends generally are non-threatening, the want to help and support you. Hence their body language supports this.

Their hands are visible and open, showing no cancelled weapons. They don’t point at you; instead they appear as if they are offering up something to you with their hand movements.

Their stomach area is exposed – they appear as offering up their vulnerabilities. Conversely enemies are more likely protect this area and puff up their persona.

Singers exploit this attraction to vulnerability by practicing techniques that have us tending to lean forward in our seats. In affect it becomes their strength, making them more approachable.

Smiles that include creases around the eyes and minimal bottom teeth exposed also help in being seen as a friend. Creepy smiles of course do the opposite.

On an instinctual level, scientists believe we are attracted to people with shiny hair as it shows that they come from an area high in minerals and able to provide healthy offspring. They may even look kind of similar to you. These are all good for survival of the race.

Interestingly males seem to improve their creativity at work when a potential partner is in the vicinity. They also tend to dress so as stand out.

“Meh” people

Most people meet we end up classifying as neither a friend, a threat nor a potential partner.  We will be indifferent to them. In the words of Seinfeld: “You’re not interviewing, you’re not looking at any new people, you’re not interested in seeing any applications.”

Unfortunately this indifference is what limits ability to meet our full potential. Our overall effectiveness is directly proportional on how well we can inspire others to do things for us. Without getting to know others we miss potentially life changing opportunities and networks.

Mirror neuron

Scientists have discovered that evolved species are wired to mimic those around them. In basic terms you can see this in the herd mentality, but a more evolved version is called Social Intelligence. It is what makes you smile when others smile around you. It plays a big part in singers being able to sing in tune.

By mirroring other people’s actions, you build rapport with them.
People buy off people they like, and most people like people that they feel they can relate to. This mirroring for most of our interaction is a subconscious language.
You can increase this by taking the time to actively listen. By actively paying attention to the speaker you’re not only showing respect to the speaker, but you are also subconsciously sending body signals to them. Your conversations even start to show more empathy.
The challenge is to consciously see the person you are interacting with as a friend. This encourages their mirror neuron to turn on and start seeing you as friend.

Brain snaps

Bullies or sergeant-major types generally have a tendency to see people as enemies. Daniel Goldberg in his bestselling book “Emotional intelligence” refers to this as an Amygdala Hijack. He describes this as when the amygdala takes over from the logical processing part of the brain. You might see it as people “snapping”. This hijack is very common in sport (like when Mike Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear). It is also common in adolescences where the brain has not yet fully developed.
School yard bullies actually talk of a feeling of being threatened by their victims before they snap. In effect they are misinterpreting the signals. Under extreme stress we are all capable of this.

Generally people who are task-orientated and fast-speaking people quicker to become frustrated by people that are to slow in assisting them solve their problem. This profile, called the High D in the DISC behavioural profiling toolkit is also the one most likely to be elevated to leadership positions or even start out on their own.
If not socially aware they revert to anger. This tends to alienate those around them, as they are now seen as the enemy. In effect, their impatience if overextended becomes their downfall. This profile is highly likely to be multitasking whilst you are taking to them, dulling their empathy and rapport building skills.


Research on high performing leaders shows that the top 10% of leaders laugh three times more often than mediocre leaders. Laughter is contagious. It lightens the office and builds rapport with those whom the leaders rely on. The mimicking neuron takes over and we find others wanting to laugh, smile or want to find out how they can get some of this laughter. It leads to creating a higher performing and loyal team.

In summary

To create higher rapport

  • Laugh more
  • Use non-threatening body language tips when interacting
  • Consciously remind yourself that they are a friend
  • Focus 100% on the person when speaking
  • Look for the clues that you are being seen as not-a-friend
  • Actively convert indifferent people