Should You Talk More in Conversations?
A recent study found that people were more likable the more they talked.
Posted August 16, 2022 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
- A new study found that people tend to believe they should listen more than speak when their goal is to be liked by their conversation partner.
- Contrary to this belief, people who had a short conversation were more likable the more they talked.
- It is unclear how the results of this study would generalize to real-world conversations.
This post is co-authored with Dr. Jaime Kurtz.
If you’re having a conversation with a new acquaintance, and you want them to like you, should you do more listening than speaking? Or should you do most of the talking?
Quinn Hirschi at the University of Virginia and her colleagues asked a group of college students this question. Most of the students believed that they should talk less than their conversation partner in order to be well-liked by them.
But this belief turned out to be inaccurate.
Hirschi and her colleagues invited another group of college students to engage in a 7-minute conversation with a stranger. The conversation was guided by a computer program that indicated whose turn it was to speak, and how long each person had to speak. The computer program randomly assigned participants to speak for 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent, 60 percent, or 70 percent of the time. After the conversation, participants rated how much they liked their partner.
What they found was that participants were more well-liked when they spoke more than half of the time.
Taken together, the results of these studies suggest that people seem to underestimate how much they should speak up in conversation. Perhaps speaking up allows our partners to learn more about us, giving them more to like.
However, in interpreting the findings of the conversation study, it’s important to stress that the conversational topics were assigned in advance, participants were given time to plan their responses, and the amount of time that participants spent talking to a stranger was carefully controlled by the computer program. Naturally, this is very different from how conversations unfold in real life. The conversations were fairly scripted, surface-level, and brief. It is unclear how the results would generalize to the sorts of unscripted, lengthier, real-world conversations that we usually have. As such, future studies are needed to determine if and when the average person, in a typical conversation, should speak up more often.
Surely, it’s not just how much you talk but what you say that matters. So, while we wait for researchers to learn more about the balance between speaking and listening, we can use these four tips from earlier research to help us have better conversations:
1. Don’t worry so much.
After having a conversation with a new acquaintance, we tend to worry about how we came across (“Did I talk too much?” or “Did that comment sound pretentious?”). However, research shows that people aren’t as critical as we are ourselves. In fact, people tend to like us and enjoy our conversation more than we think they do.
So don’t worry so much about whether you’re doing it right. Just give your partner your full attention, and enjoy the conversation.
2. Ask questions.
Use some of your talking time to ask questions about your partner. Research shows that people who ask more questions—especially follow-up questions—are better liked by their conversation partners. When you ask follow-up questions, you show that you’re interested in what the person has to say, and this makes you more likable.
As you’re getting to know your partner, be sure they’re getting to know you. Share personal details of your own life. Research shows that reciprocal self-disclosure leads to more liking and greater enjoyment of the interaction.
4. Go deep.
In a recent experiment, researchers asked people to engage in both shallow and deep conversations with strangers. In the shallow conversation, participants answered questions such as, “How is your day going so far?” In the deep conversation, participants showed more vulnerability by answering questions like, “For what in your life do you feel most grateful?”
Though participants expected to prefer the shallow conversation, they actually preferred the deeper one and felt closer to their deep conversation partner. Try going a little deeper into a conversation and see what happens.
And regardless of how much you talk in conversation, make your words count.
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. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/01461672221104927