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Think You Talk Too Much? New Research Suggests Otherwise

We think people won’t like us if we talk too much, but that isn't always true.

Key points

  • People have a reticence bias, incorrectly believing they should talk less in conversations with strangers to be better liked.
  • Researchers assigned people to talk 30%, 40%, 50%, 60%, or 70% of the time in a conversation and found people who talked more were liked more.
  • This is just one of our conversational biases—we also think people like us less and think about us less than they actually do.
StockSnap/Pixabay
Source: StockSnap/Pixabay

Whether you are on a first date, chatting with a new colleague in the break room, or making small talk at a social event, having a conversation with someone new can be anxiety-provoking. There are many uncertainties when navigating social interactions with a stranger and it can be hard to read how other people feel about us, especially when we are just getting to know them. Sometimes conversations flow easily and you quickly become fast friends. Other times you might find yourself scraping the bottom of the barrel for something to say to keep the conversation going. But it turns out that some of our intuitions about the best way to talk with a stranger are incorrect. Not only do we tend to believe people like us less and think about us less after talking with them than they actually do, we also have incorrect beliefs about the best way to make them like us when conversing with them.

According to new research by Hirschi and colleagues (2022), people have a reticence bias. We believe that we shouldn’t monopolize conversations, and instead we should listen more than speak if we want to be liked (and speak more than listen if we want people to find us interesting. If the goal is to enjoy the conversation, we think it should be an even split). But, in fact, this is not true. Across three studies, the researchers examined people’s beliefs about how much they should talk when conversing with strangers. Then they brought pairs of strangers into the lab and had them actually have a conversation. Each pair was assigned to a 30/70, 40/60, or 50/50 time split. Although people predicted they would be liked more if they spoke less, the opposite was in fact true. People liked those who spoke more, with 50%-60% seeming to be the peak liking (but 70% was preferable to 30%). Liking, interest, and enjoyment also tended to go together—which is in line with the halo effect, in which we tend to form global impressions of others.

Of course, the conversations in this study did not mimic real life. Instead, pairs of strangers were given a prompt and asked to respond for a certain amount of time, in order to control how long each person spoke. This setup isn’t the same as the natural flowing conversations we usually experience. Yet, the results may generalize to your next first date or party small talk. Other research has shown that we like people who talk more. Why might this be? One possibility is that we learn more about people when they talk more. This might help us feel more familiar with them and give us more opportunities to find points of similarity. Another possibility that I thought about is that when people talk more, they help the conversation flow, creating less work and anxiety for us. I know I always appreciate when I meet a chatty stranger who makes it easy to talk with them. But, of course, we have also met people who are a little too talkative and never let us get a word in. This research only went as far as creating a 70/30 split (and again, the researchers assigned the time split, it wasn’t natural)—so the question remains as to whether there does come a point when we can talk too much, or if monopolizing the conversation with a stranger is always a good move. What we talk about may also matter as much as how much we talk—talking about yourself the whole time tends not to be a great strategy.

This work focuses on chatting with strangers, so we also don’t know whether the same misbeliefs hold for talking with people we know. Will our friends and family like us better if we talk more? Or, do different rules apply to close relationships, when we are already comfortable with our conversation partner and any single conversation is just one of many? Although this small set of studies cannot answer all of our questions about the best way to approach conversations, it does provide further evidence that our beliefs don’t always align with reality.

References

Hirschi, Q., Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2022). Speak Up! Mistaken Beliefs About How Much to Talk in Conversations. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 01461672221104927.

Blumberg H. H. (1972). Communication of interpersonal evaluations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 23(2), 157–162. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.umich.edu/10.1037/h0033027

Boothby E. J., Cooney G., Sandstrom G. M., Clark M. S. (2018). The liking gap in conversations: Do people like us more than we think? Psychological Science, 29(11), 1742–1756. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.umich.edu/10.1177/0956797618783714

Sprecher S., Treger S., Wondra J. D. (2012). Effects of self-disclosure role on liking, closeness, and other impressions in get-acquainted interactions. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30(4), 497–514. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.umich.edu/10.1177/0265407512459033

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