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Harvard researchers reveal an easy conversation trick that will make you more likable

New Harvard University research examined over 300 online and in-person conversations.
Willie B. Thomas
New Harvard University research examined over 300 online and in-person conversations.

Nearly every person has been in the situation: You're mid-conversation and suddenly you don't know how to continue it. You're worried you'll be perceived as awkward or unfriendly.

So what's your move? New Harvard University research shows there's a simple trick you can use: Ask a question.

You'll be perceived as more likable and understanding. And that'll make you more likely to get hired and promoted.

In a series of studies, Harvard researchers examined more than 300 online and in-person conversations between people getting to know each other. For online conversations, participants were assigned a random person to talk with for 15 minutes. For in-person conversations, the researchers examined data from a previously published study of 110 people at a speed-dating event.

The findings, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, show that those who asked more questions during a conversation, specifically follow-up questions, were perceived as more likable, both online and in person.

Added bonus: When it comes to speed-dating, they are also more likely to score a second date.

"We identify a robust and consistent relationship between question-asking and liking," the co-authors write. "People who ask more questions, particularly follow-up questions, are better liked by their conversation partners."

Follow-up questions, the researchers point out, show that a person is not only listening, but is interested. They also demonstrate care, validation and understanding, writes Harvard University's Karen Huang, Mike Yeomans, Alison Wood Brooks, Julia Minson and Francesca Gino.

This is particularly good news for introverts.

"Introverts have great one-on-one conversations," says Jenny Blake, a former Google career coach and the author of "Pivot: The Only Move that Matters is Your Next One." That's important, she says, since "deep relationships" often result from "memorable" conversations.

Of course, you don't want to bombard another person with questions, but the occasional one goes a long way.

"People who ask more questions, particularly follow-up questions, are better liked by their conversation partners." -co-authors of "It Doesn't Hurt to Ask: Question-asking Increases Liking"

But though these findings may sound like a no-brainer, many people are still hesitant to be inquisitive.

For one, they might not think to ask questions, the researchers write, focusing instead on themselves. Additionally they may be afraid to come across as rude, intrusive or incompetent.

Still, the study notes, "The tendency to focus on the self when trying to impress others is misguided." Citing numerous other reports, the authors write that "redirecting the topic of conversation to oneself, bragging, boasting or dominating the conversation, tend to decrease liking."

Instead of trying to impress the other person, focus on simply learning more about them.

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