SOCIAL MASTERY (Part III): Following Traffic Lights

Andrew Bustamante | June 12, 2019

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Greetings Everyday Spy,

Welcome to the next level of Social Mastery training! If you want to review our previous lessons, here are links to Part I and Part II of training.

My first job after leaving CIA was in Fortune 500 IT project management. I was hired into an Ohio-based team that analyzed operational business reports. While the job was a far cry from exciting, the people I worked with made things pretty interesting.

I want to tell you a story about one gentleman in particular. Let’s call him Fred.

Fred was a self-proclaimed ‘numbers guy.’ He loved spreadsheets, sports statistics, and AM radio. During the workday, Fred kept to himself: quiet, cold, distant. He was friendly enough when you engaged him directly, but always ended conversations abruptly.

Fred didn’t build rapport. He didn’t share anything personal about himself and rarely showed interest in the lives of his colleagues. Fred did not have strong social skills.

Social skills are the single most important factor for career success in the modern workforce.

25% of American jobs today are considered targets for automation. Looking forward, you can expect more than 73 million US jobs to be filled by machines before 2030. From coffee baristas to bank tellers, customer service reps to business analysts, technology is being built to replace human workers.

Engineers say machines can do more, faster, better and cheaper. And no matter how much people complain about lost jobs, it seems that basic economics is winning out.


The one human skill that machines continually fail to replicate is social skill.

For all their talent and creativity, engineers still struggle to create computer programs that can mimic human social skills. You can’t program curiosity, sympathy, humor or genuine human compassion.

More that $35 billion is being spent on artificial intelligence in 2019. That number will more than double in the next 4 years to $79 billion. And the reason companies are willing to invest that kind of money is because they know social skills are worth it!

Advanced social skills like rapport, empathy, and active listening are at historic lows among employees, but their value is at an all-time high.

You’ve seen it in your everyday life; rude wait-staff at a restaurant; disinterested sales associates in a shopping center; customer service reps on the phone with no consideration for your time or whatever issue you are calling about.

If you could pay a small premium – say $1 per experience – to deal with someone who actually cared and would solve your problems with a smile, would you pay? YES! And so do employers.

Leading companies on average pay $15,500 more in annual salary to individuals with advanced social skills.

Social skills sell. Social skills keep customers coming back. Social skills earn premium prices. Social skills win.

Back in Ohio, Fred lacked those social skills. And what Fred didn’t realize was that my job was to find business tasks that could be automated. Fred’s job was one that I was hired to review. Fred’s boss wanted to see if Fred could be replaced by a machine.

People with poor social skills do not recognize their own disadvantage – they are missing the skills needed to even identify the problem.

Fred saw himself as a vital member of the team. He built complicated spreadsheets and spent 8 hours a day hovering over his calculator, double-checking his daily reports. But his boss didn’t understand him, his peers didn’t trust him, and clients were intimidated by his intensity. Fred was totally blind to his environment.

Social mastery puts you in control of your environment. You become aware of not only how others view you, but how others view each other.

  •          ‘Giving to Get’ opens up conversation.
  •          ‘Windows and Doors’ provide important insights and information about others.
  •          ‘Traffic Lights’ allow you to explore people’s thoughts, feelings, and interests.

People with strong social skills make more money, have stronger professional networks, and get more opportunities. 100% of the time.

Now that you are mastering rapport through ‘Giving to Get’ and ‘Windows and Doors,’ it’s time to use ‘Traffic Lights’ to make the most of the rapport you are building.

Rapport is like cash. While it can be saved, it will lose value over time. But if you invest it, it will reward you in the long run.

‘Traffic Lights’ is the process of using rapport to engage people in a way that gives you control over the conversation. All people share personal details in conversation. We saw that with ‘Windows and Doors.’ But actively exploring those details to learn about someone gets tricky.

‘Traffic Lights’ gives you a way to explore ‘Windows and Doors’ without making people nervous. It is a roadmap that ensures you invest your rapport in a way that earns dividends rather waste potential.

To use ‘Traffic Lights,’ all you have to do is ask questions. Each question will drive a response from the other person. Positive reactions are considered ‘Green Lights.’ Negative reactions are considered ‘Red Lights.’ Anything in-between is considered a ‘Yellow Light.’

Just like driving your car, you are safe as long as you stay in the Green or Yellow zone. If you hit a Red light, it’s time to stop.

Here is how you use ‘Traffic Lights’ to leverage rapport and take control in a conversation.

When someone opens a ‘Window or Door’ about themselves, ask a related follow-up question.

  •     If they answer your question openly, you hit a ‘Green Light’ topic and can ask another related question that goes into more detail.
  •     If they answer your question but appear uncomfortable, you hit a ‘Yellow Light’ topic and should continue asking related questions carefully.
  •     If they refuse to answer your question, you hit a ‘Red Light’ topic and should politely apologize and return to ‘Windows and Doors’ style conversation.

Consider the following conversation between Jill and Tim. Tim knows Jill has a young family from using ‘Windows and Doors’ earlier. Now he wants to learn a little more about Jill:

  • “Hey Jill, how is the family?”
  • “Good Tim. My husband’s parents are visiting, so I’m happy to be at work instead of at home!”
  • (Tim starts using ‘Traffic Lights’) “In-laws can be a pain – do you get along better with your mother-in-law or father-in-law?”
  • “My mother-in-law is terrible. She constantly badgers me!” (Green Light!)
  • (Tim continues) “Let me guess, she thinks you are too overprotective as a parent and need to be more like her?”
  • “Not exactly. I am actually quite proud of myself as a parent. She just thinks I work too much.” (Yellow Light!)
  • (Tim continues) “Well this place needs you! I hope aren’t thinking about leaving us?”
  • “I don’t want to talk about it, Tim.” (Red Light!)
  • (Tim recovers) “Sorry to pry, Jill. I know in-laws are hard. I’m sure I owe my wife flowers for dealing with my mother!”

Spies use ‘Traffic Lights’ to gain incredible insights about people, politics, conflicts and more.

Average people worry that yellow and red light topics will damage personal and professional relationships. So they avoid them all together. But the reality is that strong rapport requires that you explore personal subjects.

Personal subjects are the only way to build strong rapport. And strong rapport leads to new business, new opportunities, and new networks.

‘Traffic Lights’ create a level of rapport that makes you invaluable at work, in business, and at home.   

But in Ohio, Fred did not understand ‘Traffic Lights.’ And by the time I submitted my report to his boss, the decision had been made.

Fred was put on a list of ‘Legacy Employees’ and submitted to human resources for termination. Because of his length of service with the company, he was considered a high-cost/low-return resource. The company did not want to get stuck paying for his retirement when his employment didn’t yield high returns.

I believe everyone’s greatest value lies in their social skills – more than their education, experience, or physical talent.

Social skills can be learned. They can be trained. They can be mastered.

EverydaySpy is on a mission to change lives by teaching skills. I couldn’t help Fred then, but I can help him now.

We are one lesson away from finishing our SOCIAL MASTERY series!

Don’t miss my next training letter where we bring together everything you’ve learned so far! Here are links to Part I and Part II in case you missed them. You can find these lessons and more anytime on EverydaySpy.com.

If you are here to learn, I am here to teach!

Tell me your thoughts on Social Mastery so far.

  •     What have you enjoyed?
  •     What do you agree or disagree with?
  •     How has this series helped you in everyday life already?

Send your feedback and questions to info@EverydaySpy.com and I will respond personally.

Godspeed, #EverydaySpy


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