The Like Switch: Book Overview and Takeaways

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Like Switch" by Jack Schafer and Marvin Karlins. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the book The Like Switch about? What are the main takeaways of the book?

In their book The Like Switch, Jack Schafer and Marvin Karlins show you how to use nonverbal cues to identify potential friends and how to maintain strong friendships. They also look at the unique dynamics and challenges of online connections.

Read below for an overview of their book The Like Switch.

The Like Switch by Jack Schafer and Marvin Karlins

Do you struggle to make friends? Have you ever wanted to learn how to read people? If so, Jack Schafer and Marvin Karlins’s book The Like Switch can help. Schafer spent 22 years as a Special Agent in counter-intelligence, counter-terrorism, and behavioral analysis at the FBI. In the book The Like Switch, Schafer—with the help of Karlins, a management and organizational behavior expert—applies his experience earning the trust of witnesses, suspects, and spies to the art of making friends and fostering strong connections. 

In this book, you’ll explore how to:

  • Understand the spectrum of friendship that guides how you perceive others
  • Read and display nonverbal cues that show when you and others are (and aren’t) open to friendship
  • Cultivate the qualities you need to attract and connect with new friends
  • Keep your friends feeling happy and valued
  • Have meaningful, smooth conversations with friends
  • Productively manage conflict in relationships
  • Safely navigate online relationships

The Spectrum of Friendship

Schafer and Karlins discuss many strategies for building and maintaining relationships, especially friendships. However, before you can apply these strategies to make new friends, you’ll need to know whether someone is even open to a connection with you. You can do this by figuring out where a person falls on the authors’ “friend-foe continuum.” For clarity, we’ll call this the “friendship spectrum” in the rest of this guide. 

On one end of the spectrum, you have friends—people with whom you have a positive connection and a good rapport. On the other end, you have enemies—people who don’t wish to form a connection with you or who wish you harm. Strangers fall in the middle. You don’t know enough about them to judge whether they’re a friend or an enemy. 

(Shortform note: You likely already appreciate and depend on people who fall on the “friend” side of the friendship spectrum, as these are the people who make you feel happy, loved, and safe. However, studies show that you also need enemies to feel secure about your worldview. You’re more likely to believe that there’s order and stability in the world when you have someone to blame when bad things happen, meaning having enemies makes you feel safer.)

The authors argue that the brain can subconsciously decipher where someone will fall on the friendship spectrum. Studies show that your brain scans every environment you enter—and the people in it—and picks up on nonverbal signals that send messages about those people. Your brain then uses this information, without you realizing it, to assess who is and isn’t a threat. If you can become consciously aware of the cues that provide this information, you can easily and more actively determine who’s a good candidate for friendship.

The Four Essential Factors of a Strong Friendship

Schafer and Karlins argue that every friendship depends on four basic factors. Without them, your friendships will struggle to thrive, especially when they’re just starting out.

The first factor is seeing the other person in the same physical space over time, whether at work, school, or in a personal context. When you occupy the same space as someone else, you have the opportunity to develop a personal connection with them. Shared occupation of physical space also creates familiarity, making a person seem less threatening.

(Shortform note: Studies show that Schafer and Karlins’s emphasis on maintaining proximity in friendships is well-founded. Data suggests that the closer you live to someone, the more likely you’ll be friends with them—80 percent of an average person’s friends live within 600 miles of their home. Despite the widespread use of social media giving us the chance to connect with people anywhere in the world, regular in-person interaction with those near to us still provides the bedrock of friendships because we depend on verbal and nonverbal language to build the trust necessary for strong relationships.)

The second factor is how often you’re around each other. It’s not enough to be in the same space—you have to be in the same space frequently so that your potential friend gets used to your presence. 

The third factor is the length of time you spend together. Whether positively or negatively, people have a greater effect on each other’s behavior the longer they associate with one another. 

The fourth and final factor is the depth of your relationship. You can judge this based on how well you fulfill each other’s emotional and intellectual needs.

(Shortform note: Though Schafer and Karlins discuss the need for frequent, substantial time spent together to develop closeness in friendships, they don’t specify the amount of time needed to make this happen. You might think it depends on the individual, but studies have found that different stages of friendship can be predicted fairly universally based on hours spent together. According to their results, it takes between 40 and 60 hours spent together to develop an acquaintanceship, 80 to 100 hours to grow that into a friendship, and over 200 hours to become close friends. Therefore, to achieve the fourth factor of meeting each o

The Fundamental Rule of Maintaining Friendships

Most of the authors’ advice for maintaining positive relationships can be broken down into one simple rule: People like people who increase their sense of self-worth. If you do things for a person that contribute to their positive sense of self, they’ll associate good feelings with your presence, and they’ll want to be around you more.

(Shortform note: It may be true that people will like being around you if you make them feel good about themselves. However, the authors’ suggestion that you should keep your sole focus on making the other person happy could lead to a one-sided friendship if taken to the extreme. If your friend turns every conversation back to themselves or only wants to spend time with you when they need something, your relationship is probably one-sided. You should spend time and effort toward making your friends feel loved and happy, but it’s equally important to seek out people who reciprocate the support, attention, and care you offer them.)

Friendship in the Digital Age

Throughout the book, Schafer and Karlins give techniques for making friends and building strong connections. Most of these techniques depend on your ability to read other people’s nonverbal cues in person, but in today’s world, many relationships are formed online. Relationships in virtual spaces have their own set of unique rules and challenges.

How to Safely Navigate Online Relationships

The authors list several ways you can enter into online connections safely. First, until you have strong evidence that you’re talking to the person you think you are, assume that they’re fabricating at least some details about themselves. Many people lie about specific details like their age, weight, or occupation online, but some assume entirely false identities. You can’t know how honest someone you’ve met online is until you meet them in person.

In the meantime, collect evidence that the other person could be lying and evidence that they’re telling the truth. Over time, the distribution of the evidence should indicate their level of honesty. If you have a lot more evidence that suggests they’re lying to you, then you should end the relationship. 

Finally, meet face to face in a public place or through a video chat early in the relationship. The only way to build lasting trust and rapport is by reading the other person’s nonverbal cues.

The Like Switch: Book Overview and Takeaways

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Like Switch summary:

  • How to cultivate the qualities you need to attract and connect with new friends
  • How to have meaningful, smooth conversations with friends
  • How you can productively manage conflict in relationships

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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