In the 20th installment of Sage’s Relationship Matters podcast, hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College, Dr. Sue Sprecher (Illinois State University) and Stanislov Treger (DePaul University) talk about their work on self-disclosure during first encounters with strangers. Specifically, the researchers designed a series of experiments to determine whether people enjoy interacting with, and like, a stranger more when those people talk about themselves versus listen to the stranger do all the talking.
To test this question, Sprecher and Treger randomly assigned people to either talk to a stranger or listen to a stranger talk for 12 minutes. What did they find? Listeners, compared to talkers, were happier with the interaction, liked the stranger better, and felt closer to the stranger.
“Self disclosure is an integral part of how we grow close to others,” said Treger.
“Yes, there are benefits to disclosing, it’s fun to talk about yourself”, added Sprecher, “but it seems that it’s more beneficial to hear the other person talk about themselves.”
Treger pointed out that one of the oldest predictors of liking is similarity between two people; if you are listening to somebody talk then you have a better opportunity to recognize things you have in common with that person. If, on the other hand, you do most of the talking, then it’s hard to have an opportunity to recognize much in the other person to like.
Importantly, it’s best when self-disclosure is a two-way street — it’s a good idea to take turns in conversation when getting to know someone. If you choose to say nothing, then the other person won’t have a chance to get to see qualities in you that they may like.
Sprecher said, “The bottom line message is, number one, don’t let the other person dominate the conversation too long. Get your own message in there… and number two, make the conversation as much as possible reciprocal.”
Sprecher, S., Treger, S., Wondra, J. D. (in press). Effects of self-disclosure on liking, closeness, and other impressions in get-acquainted interactions. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, doi:10.1177/0265407512459033.