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Make Favoritism Work For You!

It is who you know.


I read an article the other day about discrimination. University researchers recently reviewed over 5 decades of published studies and surveys about discrimination. They found that many instances of discrimination are not rooted in exclusion based on difference but rather on favoritism based on similarity. In other words, discrimination happened more often to help someone in-group rather than to harm or exclude someone out-group.

Regardless, the decisions were sometimes based more on in-group status than on merit. Real instances of discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, age, and weight… certainly happen. That is a subject for another time. (However, if you want to check your own tendencies, here is an amazing way to test your own implicit biases).

We’re also not talking about sycophants, apple-polishers, ass kissers, and flatterers. That is insincere, opportunistic leverage that I would never advocate. Let’s talk about favoritism – opportunities or promotion based on similarity or mutual interest. No, it’s not always fair, but it is life. It will continue to happen because people prefer to do business with people that they know, like, and trust. We all do it and that’s OK. Why not take the steps to ensure that favoritism happens to you and not someone else? It is a competitive advantage.

You can cultivate it in respectful, genuine ways that will result in your ultimate benefit. It’s the art of being in-group – at least as much as possible – in order to achieve your objective. There are lots of ways to give the impression that you are in-group. You may have a friend/acquaintance/relative who can give you a reference or vouch for you. You may have someone who owes you a favor and will give you an advantage just to “call it even”. The most reliable way is to establish rapport.

Rapport matters because your network matters.

Your network matters because your career (and life!) matters!

The feeling and perception of similarity can easily be built on rapport. Rapport is based on both real and perceived similarity – from height, weight, and ethnicity to hobbies, fashion, and musical tastes. It can level the playing field for those without a direct referral and it can help you to get a good referral (because it is who you know, right?). Faced with two equally qualified individuals, any interviewer would have a tough time deciding between someone with a referral and someone who gets really great rapport (who already feels like part of the team – who will fit right in).

Here’s an example…

I recently ran into a friend who is a newly minted PhD looking for work. She is beautiful, young, very smart, and enthusiastic. Why hasn’t a company snapped her up? She went straight through school in a challenging curriculum and lacks the desired industry experience. It seems that when you lack experience you must compensate for it with contacts at the company or good referrals. This is happens in all fields. That’s why it’s so important to know how to establish rapport and build a network. In this case, my friend is actively cultivating contacts in every way possible. She is now reaching out to people on social media and interacting regularly with her network. She’s taking advantage of opportunities to present at conferences. She knows where the magic is! It’s in…


Networking and being social will give you plenty of opportunities to build rapport and cultivate relationships that can help you achieve your goals. Those relationships will get you in the door, get you the gig, or get you promoted. I like you because you are like me. Children are taught to look for differences and to understand the importance of similarities. Here is one particularly creepy illustration from an early Sesame Street episode. That propensity continues into adulthood. People look for ways to distinguish themselves from one another. They look for ways to differentiate themselves. At the same time, they are detecting how you are different from them. Know that this tendency is at work in most people, even as you endeavor to highlight similarities and establish rapport. Maybe this is old wiring from the cavemen days – a survival tactic.

Rapport is easy to establish…if you know how.

I have been teaching rapport skills for well over a decade – to engineers, lawyers, and mediators. One thing remains constant: most people overestimate their ability to establish good rapport. Even I do, sometimes. There are many ways to emphasize similarities, like language, presence, lifestyle, physical traits, and actions. Two of the most subtle and reliable ways to establish rapport are to be likable and to practice Unconditional Positive Regard.

Be Likeable

Being likeable encompasses rapport skills, a regard for etiquette, genuine interest, authenticity, listening skills, and charisma. It can be developed over time so that it comes naturally. Anyone can learn how to be likeable in social situations. Learn is the key word here. Most people don’t come by it naturally and everyone can improve their social skills through learning. Like any powerful life skill, social skills must be practiced. One of the easiest and fastest ways to be likeable is to prepare ahead of time to look for and (silently) appreciate something about the other person. It will come across in your demeanor. Everybody has something in his or her personality that can be appreciated or respected. Add active listening to that and you’re off to a great start. This is old school and you will find it in the writings of the likes of Dale Carnegie and Napoleon Hill – pioneers of the personal development movement. Dale Carnegie wrote an entire book about this, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Napoleon Hill called it “developing a pleasing personality.” Dr. Robert Cialdini has some great examples of the science behind likeability in his book, “Influence.” Read more about it here.

Practice Unconditional Positive Regard

Unconditional Positive Regard is a technique developed by the late humanist and therapist, Carl Rogers. He believed that people in therapy could more easily express themselves when the therapist approached them with no preconceptions or judgement. Practicing Unconditional Positive Regard is truly a mind exercise that involves accepting people unconditionally, without prejudice or judgment. People can sense when you are accepting and non-judgmental. It offers them a flattering mirror image of themselves. It offers immediate, favorable feedback. How cool is that? Is it easy? Hell no! It takes effort to train your mind away from snap judgments and preconceived ideas about people and their motives. If you can do it, however, you will be richly rewarded. Read more about it here. If you want to explore rapport some more, one of my favorite books on the subject is “The Magic of Rapport” by Jerry Richardson. It lays out rapport in an easy to read way with examples. It is a how-to book for rapport that I refer to on a regular basis. I highly recommend it and look forward to discussing it with you. Get out there and network! Nancy

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