Have you ever interacted with someone and felt like you could tell them anything? They made you feel relaxed, accepted, or comfortable, even though you hardly knew them. These people are called "openers," and they are masters at getting people to open up.
In a classic study, Lynn Carol Miller, now at the University of Southern California, and her colleagues explored the psychological profiles of openers. First, Miller created a questionnaire to assess the degree to which people are openers.
If you endorse the statements below, then you're likely to be an opener:
- People frequently tell me about themselves.
- I've been told that I'm a good listener.
- I'm very accepting of others.
- People trust me with their secrets.
- I easily get people to "open up."
- People feel relaxed around me.
- I enjoy listening to people.
- I'm sympathetic to people's problems.
- I encourage people to tell me how they are feeling.
- I can keep people talking about themselves.
What's so great about being an opener? Miller and colleagues examined this question among a group of sorority sisters. They gave the students questionnaires that assessed the degree to which they were openers and how much they liked their other sisters. The sisters who ranked higher on the opener scale were more liked by their sorority sisters.
Miller also examined the psychological profile of the opener: What traits coincide with being one? This information is helpful for those of us who would like to cultivate skills in becoming openers. The research found that openers were self-aware and comfortable around people, that they generally liked people, and that they were high in perspective-taking.
Based on Miller's research, here are some takeaways on how to become an opener:
- Listen fully to others. Give them your undivided attention.
- Express empathy. When others share, instead of thinking about your own feelings and preferences in response, think about what it's like for them to have their experience. For example, if a friend shares that they're upset about getting a parking ticket, you might want to say, "That's not such a big deal. Happens to everyone." But instead, you could share your understanding of how they're feeling: "Wow! What a bummer. Getting tickets is so frustrating."
- Cultivate self-awareness. Reflect on how you're thinking and feeling to help you understand others' thoughts and feelings.
- Ask people open questions. When someone shares a story, follow up with questions like: "What was that like for you?" and "How did you feel about that?"
- Find the joy in listening to people. Listening to others builds intimacy. It's also flattering when others self-disclose to you because it shows that they trust you.
Miller, L. C., Berg, J. H., & Archer, R. L. (1983). Openers: Individuals who elicit intimate self-disclosure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 1234–1244. doi: 10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1994