Episodes of undue influence can have many factors in common, but reflecting on this, I realised that something very frequently occurs at the start of the process. Yes, you guessed it: undue friendliness!

Friendship – true friendship – is a highly valued and wonderful thing to experience in our lives. Whether we reflect on its nature and presence or not, it enriches our lives and feeds an instinctive human need. This drive towards making and enjoying friends starts when we are infants and lasts our whole lives.

So much has been written about friendship, and hopefully, anyone reading this has experienced and can name at least one genuine friend. So I don’t intend to create a list of parameters that might define a true friendship, but focus briefly on a few points relevant to the start of manipulation that turns to undue influence.

It seems that true friendship starts with a ‘seed’ event or situation, like being in the same class at school, or taking the same bus journey to work and so forth. This seed, if nurtured with common ground, has the possibility to grow over time and eventually blossom into a life-long relationship that bears much fruit along the way. The more ground that is covered through time, mutual interest and experiences, the more resilient the friendship will become. This resilience can even stand many years of separation, without contact, and can be picked up where the friendship left off, without any apparent loss of connection.

In my own life, the longest period of no contact was about 35 years, whereby my budding friendship with Jon Atack was suspended when I stopped going to the same Birmingham Scientology outpost. Years later I found his email address, and basically, we just resumed from where we left off. I now consider him to be a great and true friend (the feeling is mutual – ed). The friend that nearly got away!

There are no formulae for enabling one to ‘create’ and keep a true friend – it simply has to be a natural unfolding – but the aspects I want to stress are that it always starts with a small seed and grows over time, before it eventually becomes a condition of genuine, deep and enduring value.

Unfortunately, there are many people who have become very skilled at emulating significant aspects of friendship, for their own hidden agendas. This works because of our evolutionary need to form social bonds for support and load-sharing. In this way, a predatory new ‘friend’ can easily bypass reason and appeal to our more instinctive, emotional selves via subconscious influence.

High-pressure selling is the most common manifestation of this approach. A good friend of mine went to look at cars at a nationwide used car outlet, just to see what was generally available. A sales guy approached him and started off with compliments about his wonderful children, and continued with very low-key friendly chat, picking up and running with any topic that came up. He was particularly keen to talk in a very friendly manner with the kids. The subject of cars was not broached. After some considerable time of just being a nice guy and building a rapport, he made his excuses and was about to leave when he ‘confided’ to my friend that his numbers were down that month, and he just needed to move a few cars along, not for a decent profit (because that was already in place), but just his numbers were low. So he said that as a favour for such a nice family, he could sell the car at cost and well below screen price, as long as it could be done quickly for his figures to work out. As I’m sure you can guess, my friend agreed to the sale and paid, went home and found the new price was actually a little above the going rate.

This is a true story, in spite of it being a total cliché, and in spite of my friend having a good business head and not feeling he was vulnerable. That short but intense run of undue friendliness, the skilful emulation of real friendship, had caused my friend to drop his guard and succumb to the undue influence that had been practised upon him and his family, with the sole intent of achieving the desired outcome: another sale.

Selling a product or service is probably the most common use of undue friendliness. Another is the undue friendliness initially applied to an individual to subliminally cajole them into joining a group they would otherwise probably avoid, or at least have no interest in. Of course, I’m talking about cult membership and the like.

The Moonies use a technique called love-bombing, which is an extreme manifestation of undue friendliness but, as far as I am aware, undue friendliness is the norm at the start of any cult indoctrination procedure. The target will always be led to believe they would be joining a remarkably friendly group, and displays of “friendliness” will be the first thing encountered, either in the street or in the meeting room, church or whatever. The driving force of this undue friendliness is getting and keeping a new person involved, and is not based on the personal merits of the target; nobody actually knows the target at this stage, after all. What follows will depend on the nature of the cult or group, but the target will have already been influenced, subliminally, by the wonderful apparent friendship offered. The door has been opened to undue influence.

A further and all-too-common demonstration of undue friendliness leading to undue influence is in inter-personal relationships where the undeclared aim may be sexual, financial, political or even social in nature. Of course, in some situations the goal may be obvious and even desirable, as in the case of an attractive person chatting you up, for example. Sadly, this is often not the case. When I was newly separated, I was with friends in a pub, and this nice lady was being very friendly towards me, and I was, at least, flattered. A real and true friend, who knew something of her, warned me to be careful, because she had kids and was on her own with no job. Several more drinks later, as she was getting ever closer, she mentioned that she needed a new washing machine, something she doubtless hadn’t planned to mention had the alcohol not revealed her true intentions.

So, where does this leave us? Should we be constantly on our guard and cynical of any possible budding friendship? I would say definitely not.

We should simply be aware of two important aspects of real friendship: initial intensity and rate of change. Alarm bells should ring if either feels too high. If the display of friendliness is inappropriate or disproportionate, then expect at some point a hidden intention of undue influence. They want something from you.

We warn our young children not to go anywhere with a stranger, but often the person with bad intent first makes sure they’re not a stranger to their quarry. So we may be better warning our kids off people who are being friendly when the child wouldn’t expect them to be.

Friendship is a great gift of life, but not all gifts are given freely.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about someone being way too friendly that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!