THE INC. LIFE

Want People to Like You More? Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

This trick is useful for people terrified of small talk

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BY Marishka M. Cabrera - 13 Jul 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

We’ve all been there. How many times have you found yourself in a social gathering—a networking event or a party thrown by a colleague—and struggled to find a good answer to the all-important question: “So, what do you do?”

For those who fear falling into awkward silence with a person they’ve just met, try asking questions instead. Why? Because not only will you be able to keep the conversation going, but science says asking questions can make you more likeable as well.

A paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reveals that people who ask more questions, particularly follow-up questions, are better liked by their conversation partners.

That’s because in most conversations, people tend to talk about themselves. And, yes, there’s research to back it up. In the paper, a study of conversations in public settings like bars and trains reveals that people spend two-thirds of the conversation talking about their personal experiences.

“The tendency to focus on the self when trying to impress others is misguided,” the study informs, “as verbal behaviors that focus on the self, such as redirecting the topic of conversation to oneself, bragging, boasting, or dominating the conversation, tend to decrease liking.” In contrast, those who probe for information from others, affirm their statements, and mirror their mannerisms have been shown to increase liking.

In a series of experiments, the researchers from Harvard University found that the people who were instructed to ask more follow-up questions were found to be more liked by the people they were paired with. As posited in the beginning of the study, asking questions increases liking because doing so indicates responsiveness. And we all know people want to be listened to.

Listening and being genuinely interested in what the other person has to say will go a long way. In networking, for instance, be more eager to ask questions instead of pushing your agenda outright.

“Effective networking necessitates the willingness to genuinely know and understand the other person’s perspective and what they are currently working on or…how you can both help each other on a long-term basis,” says Arvi Lopez, head of branding and public relations at ALTUS Digital Capital in an Inc. Southeast Asia article on how to be a master networker.

Therence John Resabal, founder and CEO of Philippine-based Spectres.Solutions, says in an Inc. Southeast Asia story on how to make a good impression that he maintains eye contact when talking to people and patiently waits for the person to finish speaking to show he is listening.  

Remember, too, that no one wants to converse with someone whose mind seems to wander. Be present in the conversation, as this will help you think of the right questions to ask and will make the discussion more fruitful. This will also show your ability to value other people’s insights. Don’t pretend to listen only to think of what you want to say next.

And before beating yourself up over how you can’t seem to think of anything interesting to say about yourself, just think that it’s not all about you.