Influence in business: Building relationships and enhancing likability

People like those who like them and who are like them

Some people have the happy knack of persuasion – of getting others to do what they want. They seem to do it instinctively while most of us struggle to sway others to our way of thinking. But psychological research has shown that persuasion is more than instinct – you can use it by appealing to some fundamental human drives and needs. In addition, you can subtly influence another person in a business conversation by asking them questions, and also follow-up questions about what they said. There is no doubt that influencing people to like you leads to better business relationships.

Persuasion is governed by basic principles that can be taught, learnt and implemented. Social psychology professor Robert Cialdini, has written a famous book describing six fundamental principles of persuasion. You can learn his secrets of persuasion – so you can apply them yourself, both personally and professionally. You will find yourself wonderfully more effective. This article is about the principle of liking, one of the 6 principles of persuasion in Cialdini’s best-selling book, Influence: Science and Practice. The 6 principles of persuasion are also concisely outlined in a short video in his website,

Uncover real similarities and offer genuine praise

Two things reliably increase liking – similarity and praise.

Similarity – find things in common

Similarity literally draws people together. Research in psychology showed that participants stood physically closer to one another after learning that they shared political beliefs and social values. And people are more willing to buy from those who are similar to them in various ways such as age, religion, politics or even cigarette-smoking habits.

Informal conversations during the working day create an ideal opportunity to discover at least one common area of enjoyment with someone you deal with. You can talk about a hobby, sport or television program. The important thing is to create the bond early because it paves the way for goodwill and trust in every later encounter. It’s much easier to gain support for a new project when the people you are trying to persuade, like your boss, a client or the new CEO, are already inclined in your favor. In this way it is worthwhile to influence people to like you in business.

Give praise

We mostly prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like. One way for people to like us is to give them praise. Praise charms and disarms. Positive remarks about another person’s attitude or performance reliably increase liking in return, as well as willing compliance with your wishes. This works even when flattery is used. Strangers such as sales people get us to comply with their requests as well by applying this rule – they first get us to like them.

Think of a person you can try this on. Look to give the person a compliment at least once a week, and note their response in your diary. Keep up a planned program of such charm and record the results. In most work and personal situations compliments are rare, so you will be pioneering new ground for yourself if you do this systematically.

If you can offer sincere admiration for some aspect of a foe, it is likely that you will be able to repair a creaky relationship with that person. You can admire their concern for their staff, the quality of their work or even their work ethic.

Asking questions in a conversation makes you better liked

Asking more questions in a conversation, particularly follow-up questions, makes you better liked by your conversation partners, according to Harvard University research published in 2017. Since people often know little about each other, especially when meeting for the first time, individuals stand to learn a large amount of information about their conversation partners during first encounters.

Importantly, though, information exchange is not the only goal of conversation. Asking questions may serve and influence other motivations like impression management. Behaviors that focus on the other person, such as mirroring the other person’s mannerisms, agreeing with their comments, and asking questions of the other person, have been proven to increase liking.  This is one of various ways to influence people to like you in business and strengthen your personal reputation.

Previous research had found that in public settings such as bars and trains, people spend two thirds of conversation time talking about their personal experiences. Especially when meeting someone new, they tend to talk about themselves and their experiences as a form of self-promotion. This behavior is also universally found among job candidates, who tend to “excessively attempt to “sell” themselves to make a favorable impression in job interviews. The conclusion to draw from this is that when planning a job interview, you should prepare some important, relevant questions to ask the interviewer/s. If you have more questions that can’t be answered briefly, you can ask these questions to the contact person at a suitable time after the interview so that you don’t over-do your welcome with the interview panel.

Interestingly, research has found most people don’t realize that question-asking, with natural, conversational questions, makes people like them more. And so few people ask questions “despite the persistent and beneficial effects of asking questions.”

The Harvard researchers noted that:

High question-askers—those who probe for information from others – are perceived as more responsive and are better liked. Although most people do not anticipate the benefits of question-asking and do not ask enough questions, people would do well to learn that it doesn’t hurt to ask.

What’s more, we enjoy deep conversations with strangers much more than we expect to

Interesting UK psychological research in 2021 reported that sometimes the most meaningful conversations come at surprising times, such as when you chat with someone you meet on a train and never see again, or with a friend of a friend who you have only just met. This can apply at work when we meet a new client or their colleague – or a new service provider. The research found that we seriously benefit from these deep conversations with strangers. But, despite this, we sometimes remain reluctant to engage in them, overestimating their awkwardness and underplaying their advantages even when we enjoy them more.

And asking good questions at work makes you a ‘supercommunicator’

In a highly-influential 2024 HBR article, Charles Duhigg writes that  great communication is a skill that nearly anyone can learn by taking the following steps: preparing before a conversation, asking deep questions during a conversation, and asking (and answering) follow-up questions throughout. You can adapt these to your interactions with others at work as well. Here’s how to master each step:

  • Before a conversation. In the moments before a conversation starts, describe to yourself a few topics you might like to discuss. By anticipating what you’ll discuss, you’re more likely to feel confident and prepared to have an interesting exchange.
  • During a conversation. Ask deep or meaningful questions that ask someone to describe their beliefs, values, and experiences in ways that reveal something about themselves beyond the simple facts of their lives. Your questions can be as light as “What do you believe about [a personal topic]?” or as heavy as “What do you regret most [out of what happened in this unsuccessful business project]?”
  • Asking follow up questions during a conversation. This signals that you want to know more and is often how we connect with people in the real world — by asking someone how they feel about something, and then following up with questions that reveal how we feel. They will keep the conversation going.

You can also read some helpful insights in my article,Real human connections remain the most important at work.”

Article updated in May 2024.

Kim Harrison

Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.

Content Authenticity Statement. AI is not knowingly used in the writing or editing of any content, including images, in these newsletters, articles or ebooks. If AI-produced content is contained in any published form in future, this will be reported to readers.

Leave a comment

Please read and respect our Comments Policy before engaging.


Further Reading


No products in the cart

Send this to a friend