Making friends and building relationships is not easy for most of us.
Often the problem is moving beyond traditional conversation lines, such as: “Hi, how are you today?” and “Not the best weather, let’s hope it’ll be better for the weekend.”
These lines do at least get you into a conversation with someone, but often their response closes down the interaction immediately: “I’m good thanks” and “The weather should be fine for the weekend.”
If you find yourself getting stuck for words at this point, then you need to learn how to boost your interpersonal skills.
If You Want to Keep a Conversation Going, You Should Make It Like Playing Ping Pong.
If you’ve ever played table tennis, then you’ll be able to quickly grasp the art of self-disclosure.
For example, when playing table tennis (also known as ping pong) with someone, you’ll be engaging in a back-and-forth action with them. This is similar to how conversations are started and sustained.
One party introduces an idea or question – and the other party comments or answers.
Self-disclosure follows the same pattern. For instance, you’ve gone to lunch with a new colleague and beyond talking about the food – you’ve begun to run out of things to say. In this case, you could move into self-disclosure mode and say something like: “You may not believe it, but I’ve been working here for over 10 years. In fact, this is the longest job I’ve ever had.”
By disclosing these couple of interesting facts about yourself, it’s highly likely that your new colleague will choose to share something about themselves too. They may reply by saying: “Wow, 10 years is a long time. My longest job was only for 6 years. However, my wife has been working at the same place for 12 years now. That’s longer than we’ve been married!”
You Won’t Smash When the Game Begins. You Will Have Some Gentle Warm-Up First.
Coming back to our table tennis metaphor, think about a time when you played against a new opponent.
If it wasn’t during an official competition, then you’re likely to have spent a few minutes playing against each other in a casual warm-up. This would have allowed each of you to gauge how the other person played, and their probable skill level, etc.
Self-disclosure in conversations is much the same. Small talk moves to deeper issues, and gradually each party begins to reveal more of their dreams, fears and beliefs to the other person. Psychologists have labeled this natural occurrence as Social Penetration.
Of course, a balance must always be found between openness and closeness. For instance, you may not want to reveal intimate details to a new acquaintance, yet, you may be comfortable doing that with an old friend.
You Get to Know If You’re Good Matching Partners After a Few Rounds of the Game
Following a fun warm-up, a table tennis game typically starts to move to a more serious level. It’s at this point that you and your opponent will introduce spin techniques, smashes and flicks. In other words, you’ll begin to become more intimate and connected than during the warm-up phase. You’ll also discover whether you’re well-matched playing partners or not.
Interpersonal skills mirror the above. Once you’ve reached a certain depth of conversation through mutual self-disclosure, it’ll become quickly clear whether the two of you can develop into friends.
You’ll instinctively make this decision based on how the other person’s beliefs, values and social status (for example) compare to yours. This is known as the Social Comparison Theory.
Practice as You Go
Self-disclosure is not the easiest thing to do. Sometimes it takes courage to step out of your comfort zone. However, the results are well worth the effort. You’ll build friendships quicker and easier. You’ll also know when a friendship could move into a deeper, long-term relationship. (Both romantic and platonic.)
I’ve given you a lot of information in this article. And to help you remember and to act on the main takeaways, I’ve listed them below:
- Self-disclosure in conversation is reciprocal.
- Gradually introduce deeper levels of self-disclosure as you get to know someone.
- Decide on ‘matchability’ by listening to the beliefs, interests and values others disclose to you.
- Be willing to adapt your conversation and level of self-disclosure to match the person you’re talking with.
Ultimately, self-disclosure becomes natural when we have an intimate friendship or relationship with someone. We want to tell them our hopes and dreams – and we want to listen to theirs too.
So, next time you’re short of things to say to a new acquaintance, let self-disclosure lead the way.