For gaining trust, it is more important to ask questions and exchange information than to focus on body language, new research finds.
For the study psychologists tested how two strangers ‘get in synch’ linguistically.
They found that nonverbal communication was way less important than the information people exchanged through language.
Professor William Ickes, who led the study, said:
“Beginning in the 1970s, many researchers touted the power of non-verbal communication in creating first impressions and connecting with others.
Our research indicates that the exchange of words in conversation is all that is really needed for the development of common-ground understanding in initial, unstructured interactions.”
The study had pairs of strangers put together ‘accidentally’ and videotaped them while they got to know each other.
The results showed that eye contact and gestures had relatively little importance for the budding relationship.
What mattered was asking more questions and exchanging more information.
Ms Vivian Ta, the study’s first author, said:
“We all know it’s important to be able to establish common-ground understanding with the people you’re interacting.
Our study shows that the key to this is verbal, not non-verbal.”
Professor Perry Fuchs, from the University of Texas where the research was conducted, added:
“This research on basic human interactions between strangers has implications for all aspects of our social lives and work contexts.
It will be interesting to see how the researchers extend this work into the online space and telephone space where so many of our initial interactions are happening now.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology (Ta et al., 2016).