Classical conditioning is a behavior-modification technique that gets used and abused in psychology more than almost any other concept. It gets misinterpreted and renamed a thousand other ways or people take a certain aspect of classical conditioning, and then repackage it so it’s an entirely different technique of its own. I’m going to talk here about the original concept of classical conditioning. It was first developed and made famous by Ivan Pavlov, a famous Russian physiologist, at the turn of the last century, who conducted a study where, before feeding a dog, he would ring a bell. The dog learned to associate feeding time with the ringing of the bell. Dogs salivate when they’re about to eat, over time, as soon as the dog heard the bell being rung, he knew food was coming and he’d start to salivate – whether food was subsequently offered or not.

That has huge implications from a psychological point of view for a number of reasons. First, because we’re animals, we also respond to classical conditioning. If you were called for dinner every single day in exactly the same way, then one day you were called for dinner and there was no food there, you would still have come for the feeding. You’ve been tricked. But you haven’t really been tricked; you’ve just been classically conditioned to respond to being called for dinner at a certain time.

That’s how human beings operate. We learn quite often by classical conditioning. This can be used to generate a rapport with somebody – or to destroy it, depending on what you want to do.

Why You Don’t Like That Person

Let’s look at classical conditioning and the kind of responses it conditions. Let’s think about people we know in our life. Take a moment. Think about somebody in your life whom you don’t really like. If you think about it, you’ve probably got negative feelings you associate with them. When they’re around you, they do things that annoy you. They may say things you don’t like, behave in ways you don’t like; it could be any number of things.

What has happened is that you have associated these negative behaviors, statements, or feelings with them. And this is incredibly powerful. What they have done is classically conditioned you to associate bad behavior with them which makes you not want to hang around them.

I had a student who’s in a long distance relationship. Every time he phoned his girlfriend, he moaned to her about the distance. He complained about their being apart. When he got on the phone, he’d ask her about who she was talking to on Facebook because he worried about her cheating on him. When he wasn’t on the phone to her, he told everyone else how much he loved her, how amazing she was, how beautiful she was.But he didn’t tell her those things.

Let’s break this down into the actual interactions. When he was on the phone with her, he was negative and moaning all the time, explaining how much he missed her rather than just talking to her and interacting

He’d contact her to explain how jealous he felt; how he didn’t like the fact that she was talking to other boys. But he didn’t just call up out of the blue to tell her he loved her. He didn’t just randomly send her flowers. He didn’t do any of the really positive things that he should have been doing. They were always negative. So she made negative associations with his calls because every time she spoke to him, it was unpleasant. They had no or few good interactions. Of course, he did love her; but when he was in communication with her, he made her feel bad. So she broke up with him.

Why People Will Like You

We can use classical conditioning in a positive way because we can generate positive associations in people. I’ve got a mental checklist in my head and when I interact with people, I’m wondering all the time, are they making positive associations or negative associations with me?

You should ask yourself if people are making positive associations with you. Are you classically conditioning them in a positive way to enjoy your presence, or in a negative way? When you think of your interactions like this, you become quite a positive person. You’ll find yourself always trying to help people.

If you’re someone who reads about my material and what I do, you probably notice that I give a lot of free stuff away. I’m always helping people for free. I’m always trying to help people around me. You need to realize how important it is to make sure you are benefiting people all the time. That’s how you build rapport. You make sure that people enjoy your company and your time.

Remember my friend in England who said she loved receiving phone calls from me? When I asked why, she said, “You only phone me for two reasons. One is to offer me work, and the other is because you’ve got some kind of crazy scheme that’s going to involve us all going out and having a great
time.”

I phone her up and invite her to paintball. I phone her up and tell her I’ve got some work, to come and help out over the weekend. I phone her up to tell her we’re all going up to Scotland to stay in a cottage for a week. I’ve always got some thing going on with that group of friends, but I never realized it consciously. It’s something I did unconsciously because I’m helping out people around me all the time. But it became conscious when she told me that she always has positive associations with me. She absolutely loves receiving phone calls.

When you’re talking to someone, you want to think about that. Are you somebody they enjoy being with? Are you fun? If you can feel a relationship going bad, if you feel them not interacting with you or enjoying it, it’s because somewhere in your interactions, they’re having a negative conditioning experience with you. Maybe it’s because 200 other people have just run up to them and chatted them up, so they don’t want another person to chat them up. Relate to that. Understand what they’re saying and work with them. Make sure that they’re having a good, classically conditioned response to you