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Brokers & Managers: Ask recruits these questions to build deeper relationships

The questions you ask someone you first meet makes a big difference in how the relationship forms

As a real estate hiring manager, you probably have a substantial number of competitive agents who are acquaintances. If you saw one of these individuals at a closing, you’d recognize them, and they’d probably recognize you.

If you saw one of these agents at a networking event, it wouldn’t be hard to start a conversation and catch up on what’s happened since you last time connected.

It’s no secret that these acquaintances are a rich source of potential hires but very few hiring managers take advantage of this potential. Why? It’s harder than it looks to deepen your relationships with these acquaintances and get them to join your team.

Help from a Relationship Lab

To overcome this barrier, let’s get some coaching from a psychologist who specializes in developing relationships. Dr. Art Aron and his wife Elaine (who is also a psychologist) have collaborated for over 50 years on the health of adult relationships. 

For years, their Interpersonal Relationship Lab focused on one simple question: If you have an interpersonal relationship with someone, how can science make it better?

Some of their work is groundbreaking, including a widely used inventory to increase intimacy for couples who are considering long-term relationships. However, in the late ‘90s, Dr. Aron started asking a new question: Can science help turn strangers into friends?

The Importance of Self-Disclosure

Through a series of experiments involving strangers who volunteered for the research (think speed-dating with a little more structure), Dr. Aron discovered something interesting:

The type of questions you ask someone when you first meet makes a big difference in how the relationship forms and progresses.

More specifically, if your questions (and the questions of the other person) involve just factual information, the relationship will probably not progress past an acquaintance level. This is commonly called “small talk,” and it involves asking questions such as:

  • How’s the market treating you?
  • How long you do you think interest rates will remain low?
  • Are you planning on taking a vacation this summer?

By contrast, if the questions asked during an interaction are slightly more personal and involve a small amount of self-disclosure, the relationship progresses differently.

Here are some examples of questions involving more self-disclosure:

  • What would constitute a perfect day for you?
  • For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
  • If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be?

It may take a little practice, but a good conversationalist can work these types of questions into a business exchange and deepen the relationship. For recruiting purposes, it means you’re getting closer to a hire.

Add Proximity and Problem Solving

Dr. Aron’s research was not conducted in a workplace environment. However, several follow-up studies focused more on business relationships.

Researchers at Washington State University discovered there’s a measurable business acquaintance to trusted colleague transition that happens under certain workplace conditions:

The acquaintance-to-colleague transition was perceived to be caused primarily by working together in close proximity, sharing common ground, and extra organizational socializing.

Washington State University

For the relationship to deepen, you must find ways to connect more frequently and in ways that go beyond the surface level. The researchers then noticed the best way to break through this surface level was to find and work on a common problem.

The relationship transition was primarily associated with working together on problems in one’s personal and work experiences.  When problem solving was involved, communication became broader, more intimate, and less cautious.

Washington State University

In essence, when problem solving is involved, the business acquaintance learns to trust and respect you at a deeper level.

Recruiting More Effectively

Notice the progression. The acquaintance starts to trust you more when conversations involve some self-disclosure. The relationship deepens when proximity increases, and you’re viewed as a trusted colleague.

And when colleagues work together on common problems, it’s a small jump to becoming a hire. And here’s the best news:  In the arena of recruiting, there are no shortage of problems.

Newer agents are going to face challenges in transitioning from their prior careers to their new ones.  Talk to these prospects about the problems they’re trying to solve to get established.

For more experienced agents, look for specific problems that competitive agents are struggling to solve and not getting the support they need from their current manager.

If you treat competitive agents like you’re already their manager and coach, the final transition to working on your team will feel more natural. 

Ben Hess is the managing director of Third Pool Recruiting.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of RealTrends’ editorial department and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Ben Hess at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Tracey Velt at