2 Ways Becoming A Better Conversational Partner Will Make People Like You
Research shows that conversational skills are the key to becoming more likable to others.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | February 09, 2024
A positive first impression solidifies social bonds that are essential to our well-being, paving the way for new friendships, romantic connections and even career opportunities. In initial conversations with new acquaintances, the time we spend speaking as opposed to being passive listeners can significantly shape the impressions we create.
A 2023 study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that individuals often underestimate the ideal balance between talking and listening during first interactions and revealed two psychological effects, "the reticence bias" and "the halo ignorance effect," that fuel these conversational misjudgments.
Here are two reasons why we underestimate appropriate speaking time in a conversation, according to the study.
1. The Reticence Bias
The reticence bias refers to the tendency to hold back or be hesitant to express one's thoughts, feelings or opinions, particularly when one anticipates negative consequences or fears social repercussions. This bias often leads people to self-censor or refrain from speaking up even when they could contribute positively to a conversation or have valuable insights to offer.
Due to this cognitive bias, individuals believe that speaking less than half the time compared to their conversational counterparts will make them appear more likable. However, researchers found that these assumptions about limiting "talk time" are false and individuals are actually more likable when they speak for at least half the time or more.
Reticence bias tends to stem from low self-confidence in conversational skills, often associated with experiencing social anxiety. Additionally, individuals tend to underestimate their social abilities because they lack opportunities to receive feedback from their conversation partners regarding their conversational performance or the impression they have made. This creates a significant "liking gap" between how individuals perceive their own likability versus how they are actually perceived by new acquaintances.
Individuals tend to assume that they come across less positively than they actually do, believing that others are focusing on their flaws and comparing conversations to how they ideally should have gone, which makes them self-minimize and take up less space in initial interactions.
In contrast, research shows that asking thoughtful questions during conversations significantly influences likability. Participants who asked a higher number of questions were consistently better-liked than those who asked fewer questions, which underscores the importance of being responsive and attentive to others in conversation. Further, those who speak more are also perceived as less boring.
The researchers write, "People speak less perhaps because they confuse being a good listener with don't talk much. Pairs that speak longer and learn more about each other, like each other more than pairs who speak for shorter periods of time." It is crucial to recognize that effective listening can co-exist with being an engaging conversational partner.
2. The Halo Ignorance Effect
Researchers describe the "halo ignorance effect" as people's tendency to believe that their speaking time should depend on the goal behind the conversation. When speaking to someone new, many individuals are motivated to be liked or to appear interesting. Consequently, they tend to listen more when aiming to be likable but speak more when they want to be perceived as interesting.
The researchers write, "people recognize that they should speak more because, perhaps intuitively, people might realize they cannot be interesting if they are not saying much; they need to contribute more substance to engage the other person and capture their interest."
However, this assumption ignores the "the halo effect," which occurs when the perception of one specific trait influences how we perceive other unrelated traits. For instance, if we perceive someone as physically attractive, we might automatically assume they are also intelligent or kind, despite having no direct evidence for those assumptions. This bias emerges because our brains often take shortcuts in processing information about a person.
Similarly, the "halo ignorance effect" suggests that individuals overlook that their conversation partners do not judge likability and interest in a conversation separately, but form an overall impression of them encompassing both. Researchers confirmed this effect and found that individuals can achieve perceptions of both likability and interest by actively contributing to the conversation rather than compromising their talking time.
Aside from speaking time, researchers recommend the following strategies for a successful first conversation:
- Engage in self-disclosure. This involves sharing personal information about oneself to build rapport and trust by showing vulnerability or sharing experiences, opinions or emotions. This promotes liking and deeper connections.
- Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions encourage the other person to elaborate on their thoughts, feelings and experiences. They typically start with words like "what," "how" or "why," allowing for expansive responses and demonstrating genuine interest in the other person. Balancing self-disclosure with asking open questions ensures a reciprocal conversation where both parties feel engaged and valued.
- Practice active listening. Active listening involves being attentive without interrupting or formulating a response prematurely. It is about understanding not just the words spoken but also subtext, intent and nuances conveyed. Attentive listening signals respect and empathy, fostering a sense of validation and understanding in the conversation.
Understanding biases like the halo ignorance effect allow us to engage more confidently in conversations, promoting better first impressions and social bonds. While encouraging others to share about themselves is important, it doesn't necessitate speaking less. Sometimes, our self-consciousness creates a misleading narrative, diminishing our confidence. In reality, just as we generally tend to form positive impressions of others and want to hear from them, our own impact on others is likely more positive than we imagine, with them wanting to hear from us too.
A similar version of this article can also be found on Forbes.com, here.