Build Rapport Like a Spy

It’s essential to have the trust of your colleagues. Your coworkers will be unlikely to support you without it. To accomplish goals, you will first need to develop rapport with others. So how do you move from a friendly stranger to a trusted peer? 

Awkwardly sitting alone at lunch and feeling like the odd person out at team meetings and events can seem childish and may take you back to your high school days, but not fitting in is a real issue that can impact your ability to succeed in your job. 

The Central Intelligence Agency has a technique called “You Me, Same Same.” This is used to develop foreign assets by showing them, “Look, I’m trustworthy. I’m just like you. Same same.” This may sound like you should pretend to have an interest in a topic to influence someone else. But the intent of the technique is to find genuine common ground. In the world of spies and business, if a real friendship isn’t developed, it won’t work. There are five steps to this method: 1.) Find ways to make yourself well-rounded. 2.) Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. 3.) Listen. 4.) Give to get. 5.) Take notes.

Make yourself well-rounded.

You need to have interests or hobbies so you can connect with others. What do you want to learn? With the internet, you can get skills from YouTube on just about anything. Learn about wine tasting, knitting, or painting. Finding time for a hobby or skill is challenging. But having any amount of experience can give material for connecting with others. 

Talking about shared experiences, interests, hobbies, jobs, or any number of other common topics enhances the rapport-building process.

Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not.

You will fail if your attempts at trust-building are inauthentic. Spies fail when they fake it too. So find a genuinely shared interest. If you want to connect with someone, place yourself in the role of a student and ask them about their interest. If your colleague is a wine expert, ask them how they got started. 


People want to talk about themselves and their own interests. Talk about yourself only in a way that keeps the conversation moving. It’s more important to be the listener than share a similar story. So when a colleague shares tales from an exciting vacation, resist the urge to take over the conversation when you’ve been to that same place countless times. Even if they ask whether you’ve been there, tell the truth, but then put the ball back in their court by asking them questions about whether they’d go back, what they liked best about their trip, or where they stayed. You will find ways to connect based on how they answer. 

Give to get.

To get people talking, give information about yourself first. This will make your colleague feel more comfortable sharing similar details. This is a system that the CIA teaches to help officers build rapport and strengthen their clandestine relationships. It’s just as valuable in business. 

If there’s particular information you hope someone will talk about, create a discussion by sharing something comparable in your life that could trigger them to open up about the subject you’re interested in. So when you hope a coworker will speak about a stressful work situation, share a recent story that you endured that was similar. Whether you’re trying to break the ice or find a compromise in negotiations, “give to get” is an easy process to encourage others to open up, forming the groundwork for a trusting relationship.

Take notes.

Take notes on what you’ve learned about people just like a CIA operative would write a report. You don’t need to write confidential information about someone. Instead, write small details about their life so that you can follow up about them later. If a coworker says they’re training for a marathon, write it down so you can follow up with them later. When they share how many kids they have and their names, write those down too. When you remember details people have told you about their lives, they will feel special — especially when you follow up. 

Building trust with your coworkers is an important aspect of getting support for your ideas. When you use these CIA-inspired ideas, you build good working relationships. So much of what we accomplish in the workplace relies on relationships and having the trust of our coworkers. When we take the time to connect and appreciate each other, we position ourselves for victory.

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