After a year of isolation as the result of COVID-19, I often find myself questioning nearly every move in newly emerging social situations: What do I say? How do I follow up? As we all reenter the world of networking events and corporate happy hours and hallway conversation, Harvard has a learning for healthy conversation that's worth reading.
A Harvard study published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that asking a question — then asking two follow up questions about your colleague's response — can make you a more likable conversationalist. It's the "three question rule" to a conversation that makes the other person feel heard, respected and appreciative of your presence.
"We converse with others to learn what they know — their information, stories, preferences, ideas, thoughts, and feelings — as well as to share what we know while managing others' perceptions of us," the authors wrote. "[When we ask questions] we are perceived as higher in responsiveness, an interpersonal construct that captures listening, understanding, validation and care."
The key is to ask a meaningful question first and make sure the follow-up questions reflect careful listening, according to the study.
"In particular, asking questions that follow up on the other person's responses cause and convey better listening. The question asker's responsiveness, in turn, is likely to cause him or her to be better liked by the question answerer," they wrote.
It can be tough to navigate a conversation asking the other speaker questions instead of leaning on your own experiences and fun facts. But it's always worth it. Have a few open-ended questions in your back pocket at all times, even simple options like "How's your day going?" or "What's on your mind right now?" Listen closely, and base your follow-up questions on what's said. In the end, you may find it easier to let the other person lead instead of coming up with conversation concepts on your own.
Failing to ask questions at all can make conversationalists seem egotistical and uncharismatic. Think about it: We've all experienced a colleague who waxes poetic about their lives but doesn't know your job title. Those folks aren't the people who make you feel liked — and you probably don't like them as a result.
In short, the key to being more well-liked is asking three questions a conversation. It's a quick mental math that can have great results. The power of science.