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The Allure of Someone's Uncommon Attention

... and what we can do to become more like them.

Key points

  • Unique attraction to others often stems from the uncommon attention they bestow upon us.
  • Uncommonly attentive behavior is positively received by contacts and customers.
  • Making a point of recognizing others is a valuable way to build rapport.
Irina Gromovataya / Pixabay
Source: Irina Gromovataya / Pixabay

Everyone gravitates toward friendly colleagues, classmates, and co-workers. When it comes to choosing with whom to spend our free time, our decision is usually very easy. But why? What is it about certain people that attract us like moths to a flame? According to researchers, it might have something to do with the way they make you feel.

Uncommon Attention

Most of our friends, family, and acquaintances—both personal and professional—treat us well. That is why they remain within our circle of contacts. But for most of us, certain people stand out. These are the people we would go out of our way to wave to on our neighborhood street or office hallway, seeking to capture their attention in order to interact, while letting others we recognize simply pass by. Apparently, our unique attraction to them stems from the uncommon attention they bestow upon us.

Respect and Rapport

Researchers have studied the value of rapport in different contexts. The retail industry provides an ideal setting to test different methods of rapport-building between employees and customers. Dwayne D. Gremler and Kevin P. Gwinner, studying rapport-building behaviors used by retail employees, analyzed 824 rapport-building behaviors confirming three categories suggested by previous research: being uncommonly attentive, involving intentional attempts to find areas of similarity, and courteous behavior.[i] They also identified two additional categories that had not been linked to rapport in retail settings: connecting and information sharing.

The category Gremler and Gwinner labeled uncommonly attentive behavior, which includes bestowing special attention upon or making it a point to recognize customers, is of particular interest considering it was the rapport-building behavior most frequently identified by customers themselves. This finding is consistent with common experience in public interactions where we often remember individuals, in settings both personal and professional, by the way they made us feel.

Rapport Worth Remembering

Some of our favorite people have attained their status through the way they respond to us. Similar to the retail industry, and consistent with the findings of Gremler and Gwinner, many of us have that favorite aunt or coworker who always remembers our birthday and favorite foods, and who we consider to be on the “same wavelength,” making socializing uniquely satisfying. We may, in fact, be that favorite person to others. Here are a few ways, consciously or unconsciously, we bridge the gap through bonding.

  • Pointed questions promote positivity. Asking how 7-year-old Suzie performed in her first dance recital last week is better than asking, “How is your daughter?”
  • Be an insider. Passing along tailor-made tips demonstrates your respect for the relationship. From recipes to research, going the extra mile to accommodate the personal tastes and interests of friends and contacts creates trust and relational intimacy.
  • Notable quotables. People love when you remember the intelligent, insightful things they said. Especially when you are able to both accurately remember and recite them back to the author, who will in turn remember you—fondly.
  • Recognition is respect. Just as retail industry research reveals the value of recognizing customers, acknowledging acquaintances, celebrating colleagues, prioritizing friends and family generates attraction through appreciation.

Because selective attention is uncommonly attractive, recognition demonstrates respect and builds rapport in a variety of settings, personal and professional.

Facebook image: anstudiophoto/Shutterstock


[i] Gremler, Dwayne D., and Kevin P. Gwinner. 2008. “Rapport-Building Behaviors Used by Retail Employees.” Journal of Retailing 84 (3): 308–24. doi:10.1016/j.jretai.2008.07.001.

More from Wendy L. Patrick, J.D., Ph.D.
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