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What Makes a Great Conversation Just "Click"

Just 250 milliseconds can make all the difference.

Key points

  • Research shows responding quickly to a partner during a conversation improves feelings of social connection and enjoyment of the conversation.
  • Responding quickly in a conversation may signal that a partner is actively listening.
  • Rapid response times in conversations are likely too fast to consciously control.

Recent research by Templeton and colleagues (2022) reveals a facet of conversations that strongly impacts feelings of connection to a partner: the speed of response time.

As the authors report, response times in conversations tend to be extremely short, around 200ms, and individuals who feel close and connected to one another respond more quickly than those who do not feel close to their partners. Interestingly, the authors suggest that this rapid response time remains consistent across cultures and different languages.

In order to respond so quickly, Templeton et al. suggest that we need to pay attention to what our partner is saying, prepare to respond, and coordinate our response when we expect our partner to stop talking. Therefore a quick response indicates “how well one mind predicts another… [or] being ‘heard and understood,’” and thus is an important indicator of social connection or feeling like you “click” with another person.

The Link Between Rapid Response Time and Feelings of Closeness

The authors conducted three studies showing the relationship between rapid response time and feelings of closeness. In the first study, participants interacted with strangers and evaluated their feelings of closeness during the conversations. Participants reported enjoying conversations more and feeling closer with their interaction partners when their partners responded more quickly during the conversation.

In the second study, the participants were asked to return to the laboratory and bring three close friends with them. Once again, the researchers found that friends responding more quickly to the conversation also led participants to report stronger feelings of social connection and closeness. Interestingly, feelings of closeness were related to faster responses by one’s partner, but not faster responses by the individual themselves. The authors concluded that “how much a person enjoys a conversation and feels connected to their partner is predicted more by how quickly their partner responds to them rather than by how quickly they respond to their partner.”

Because both studies 1 and 2 were correlational, the authors also conducted an experiment. The researchers selected audio clips from study 1 and experimentally manipulated those conversations to reflect shorter, longer, or control (non-manipulated) conversation response times. Participants who were not involved in the original conversations listened to these manipulated conversations and rated their perceived enjoyment of the conversations and the connection of the conversation partners.

Importantly, the same conversations were rated differently when they were manipulated. Conversations in which response times were shortened were rated as more enjoyable and more connected, yet the same conversations in which response times were lengthened were rated as less enjoyable and showing less connection.

The authors conclude that responding quickly to a partner during a conversation improves feelings of social connection and enjoyment of the conversation, regardless of whether one's interaction partner is a friend or a stranger. The authors suggest that responding quickly might signal that a partner is actively listening. Because the difference between quick responses and slow responses is very small (less than 250ms) the authors contend that it is likely too fast to be consciously controlled. Therefore, rapid response times in conversations are likely a genuine signal of emotional connection among partners.

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Templeton, E. M., Chang, L. J., Reynolds, E. A., Cone LeBeaumont, M. D., & Wheatley, T. (2022). Fast response times signal social connection in conversation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 119(4), e2116915119.

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