Good news, wallflowers of the world. There's a research-backed method to help you battle through awkward party conversations or those tense moments where you're stuck with someone you barely know at work. Here's the secret: Ask questions. Ask lots of questions and ask follow-up questions.
That's advice you may have heard before, but it's being backed up by a study from doctoral student Karen Huang at the Harvard Business School. Her team dug through more than 300 online and face-to-face conversations between strangers to better understand how we engage in small talk.
In the online portion, participants engaged in conversation with a stranger for 15 minutes. Each person was instructed to either ask a minimum of nine questions or to ask a maximum of four questions. Unsurprisingly, participants enjoyed conversing with people who asked more questions.
"When people are instructed to ask more questions," Huang writes in the study, "they are perceived as higher in responsiveness, an interpersonal construct that captures listening, understanding, validation, and care."
The second study had the same setup but asked a third person to read a transcript of the conversation and give their thoughts about the two people talking. Readers tended to find the person who answered questions more likable. “We suspect this is because people who answer lots of questions end up revealing more information about their thoughts, ideas, and perspectives,” Huang told the Huffington Post. “They seem more interesting and complete.”
The takeaway is that there's a balance to be struck of revealing a bit about yourself and also asking questions. Though, questions shouldn't be interrogative like a job interview. They should be conversational and you should ask follow-up questions.
So, if you're looking for a way to begin mastering small talk, start by asking questions and be sure to toss in a follow-up or two.
h/t Huffington Post
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