By Jason KUROSU
After 20 years working as a counterintelligence officer with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Schafer is sharing the skills he utilized to gain the trust of informants in “The Like Switch,” his latest book, co-written with fellow psychology Ph.D. Marvin Karlins.
Schafer appeared at the Flintridge Bookstore in La Cañada Thursday night to speak about the techniques discussed in the book, which he said could be applied to a variety of real life social situations.
In the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, Schafer and others identified what relationship characteristics lead to friendships and trust. Building upon that knowledge, they developed relationships with prospective informants in order to convince them to share information with the U.S. “The Like Switch” details how the FBI gradually coaxed a foreign intelligence officer, code named Seagull, into cooperating with the American government.
“What I tried to do with the book is take those tactics that we learned were very successful and bring them into the non-counter intelligence realm,” said Schafer.
Among these tactics are a series of nonverbal cues Schafer calls “friend signals,” which people send to each other, knowingly or unknowingly, letting others know that they can be trusted. Among these are smiles and the “eyebrow flash” or raising of the eyebrows.
“Every time we go somewhere, our eyes and our brain are scanning the environment and we’re looking to see who’s a threat and who’s not a threat,” said Schafer. “By using friend signals, you’re predisposing people to like you before you even open your mouth.”
Schafer said that identifying these signals was important not only to establish relationships with other people but also for monitoring one’s own behavior, using the apprehension someone can feel and exhibit during a job interview as an example of when friend signals would be beneficial.
As far as developing relationships with others, Schafer described the Golden Rule of Friendship as paramount to making a successful connection with someone.
“If you want someone to like you, you make them feel good about themselves,” said Schafer.
Schafer also spoke about using empathic statements as a means towards making others feel better about themselves. These empathic statements mirror what someone says and are designed to indicate interest and attention in the other person.
“You look like you’re having a bad day” and “You look happy today” were some examples of empathic statements Schafer said, which puts the focus of the conversation onto the other person, inviting them to talk more about themselves.
Finding common ground with someone is another technique Schafer touted as extremely effective in forming quick relationships with people.
“Common ground is the fastest way to develop rapport,” said Schafer.
Schafer identified three primary examples of common ground: contemporaneous, temporal and vicarious. Contemporaneous common ground implies current commonalities, temporal common ground covers those commonalities over time and vicarious common ground is that which is reached through other people. These can be commonalities from a variety of areas including school, occupation, birthplace, location, etc., with the common connections possibly established in the present (“You’re in the Army? I’m in the Army, too!”), the past (“You’re in the Army?” I was in the Army 20 years back!”) or through other people (“You’re in the Army? My brother’s in the Army!”).
Just as in his FBI work, much of the techniques described in “The Like Switch” are not designed to force someone to feel a certain way, but to develop relationships that will make a person comfortable and willing to open up and reciprocate that friendship.
“The whole point of the book is that we should make people feel good about themselves,” said Schafer. “When you like someone, would you do something for them willingly? Absolutely. You can’t force anyone to like you.”
Regarding his work with the FBI, Schafer noted, “Friendship gets you a lot more information than torture.”
After “seeing some evil things” over the span of his career, Schafer said the main goal of the book was to help people foster more positive relationships with one another and doing so through making others feel better about themselves.
“If nothing else, the book contains things to help you in job situations, dating situations, relationship situations to help people feel good,” he said. “And that’s kind of what we need a little bit more of, I think.”
Schafer currently teaches criminal justice at Western Illinois University. “The Like Switch” is currently available in bookstores.