Before Christina Hillsberg became the successful, bestselling author of License to Parent: How My Career as a Spy Helped Me Raise Resourceful, Self-Sufficient Kids, she was an analyst for the CIA, trusted with many of the nation’s top secrets.
As a former spy, Christina knew a thing or two about building trust with people to get what she wanted. However, when starting in business after her time in the CIA, she found that building rapport – and respect – required more than she had previously thought.
In a September 2021 article for the Harvard Business Review titled, “5 Techniques to Build Rapport with Your Colleagues,” Hillsberg writes, “When I was an analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency, I wrote analytic assessments for the US President and other policymakers. I worked alongside my colleagues in the Directorate of Operations meeting intelligence assets and collecting information of interest to the United States, a role in which trust plays an integral part.
When I left the CIA for a new career in threat intelligence at a large tech company, I learned right off the bat how instrumental the skills I learned at the CIA would be, especially my ability to build trust. As a woman working in the male-dominated field of Information Security, I often experienced skepticism over my credentials. It didn’t help that I came from a career in which I couldn’t share many details about my professional background.
After multiple meetings in which I didn’t gain much traction for my ideas, I began to realize I needed to shift my focus.
Before I could accomplish my goals, I’d first need to build rapport with others to gain their trust and respect.
She states, “In order to do this, I leaned on a technique I learned at the CIA called You Me, Same Same. Some officers interpreted this to mean that they should feign interest in a topic in which their intelligence asset was also interested. The most successful operations officers, however, sought to find genuine common ground through being multifaceted themselves.
Let’s walk through some of the techniques CIA agents use to genuinely connect and build trust with their colleagues. Find ways to make yourself well-rounded. In order to have topics that you can connect with others on, you need to have your own interests and hobbies. Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn? There are endless opportunities to acquire new skills from people all over the world without even leaving your home. You can enjoy a wine tasting in your home with a renowned master sommelier through MasterClass, learn to knit from TikTok, or connect with other book lovers through a virtual book club.”
Hillsberg gives the following examples. “Do you already have a hobby that you’ve let fall by the wayside due to the hustle and bustle of life? Finding time for interests outside of work can become difficult when we find ourselves overwhelmed with careers and responsibilities at home. Consider blocking time off on your calendar each week for your new skill or hobby. Remember, you don’t need to become an expert in everything you try. Having any amount of experience, even small amounts, in a variety of topics can give you material to draw from when you’re meeting and connecting with others.”
She goes on to say, “Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Just like CIA operations officers’ attempts to connect with someone over fake shared interests often fail, so will your attempts at building trust if you’re not authentic. Try to find a shared topic about which you’re genuinely interested.
If you can’t find a way to connect with someone, consider learning more about one of their interests — but only if it’s something you actually want to learn about. For example, say your new colleague is a wine expert. Instead of hurriedly purchasing a book all about wine — or signing up for a course — in hopes of passing yourself off as a fellow expert, consider expressing your interest in learning more. Placing yourself in the role of student and the other person in the role of teacher can be a great way to build trust in a much more genuine way.
But perhaps, most important of all is the topic of listening. Hillsberg concludes, “Listen. When you’re building rapport with someone, remember that by and large, people like to talk about themselves and their own interests. It’s okay to talk about you too — and you’ll need to do that in order to make those shared connections we discussed — but do it in a way that keeps the conversation moving and encourages them to share more.
If you know that you’re naturally a very talkative person who enjoys being in the limelight, don’t forget to pass the mic to someone else. While sharing a similar story can create a bond, keep in mind that sometimes it’s more important to play the role of listener. For example, if someone excitedly shares about their recent vacation, and it’s a destination you’ve been to countless times, resist the urge to take over the conversation with your own stories of traveling there.
If they ask if you’ve been there, you should tell the truth, but then diplomatically put the ball back in their court by asking them questions about what they liked best about their trip, where they stayed, and whether they’d ever go back. Depending on how they answer, you may be able to find ways to connect over shared experiences.”
I felt so inspired by her story and by her experiences that I wanted to share a few of her secrets with you in this chapter involving the topic of respect…
*From our upcoming book…