Have you ever thought of the perfect reply to a comment someone made in a conversation with you?--but only after the conversation was over? That has definitely happened to me on more occasions than I would have liked. And I would bet I'm not alone.
There's even an expression in French that encapsulates that agonizing feeling you get when you realize you missed an opportunity to say what you really wanted to say to someone. "L'esprit d'escalier," or translated literally into English, "staircase wit," captures this phenomenon perfectly.
It has hit me minutes or even hours after conversations at social events, and it has occupied plenty of head space after more delicate, performance-related, or career-focused conversations I've had with managers and colleagues at work.
Forgetting to deliver the right words at the right moment? is just one example of the type of stumbles people make in conversation with others. And it's just one of the reasons why we often feel so insecure about how others are perceiving us as we attempt to open our minds and pour out our souls to other people, and very often to strangers who know nothing about us.
"Do they like us?" we ask ourselves silently. "Am I creating a good impression?" These are common questions that run through our minds as we try to navigate the give-and-take of human conversation.
And we tend to beat ourselves up in this department. We tell ourselves they don't like us, and we aren't creating a good impression on others. That's according to a new study by a team of researchers from Cornell, Harvard, Yale, and Essex Universities.
"We found that following interactions people systematically underestimated how much their conversation partners liked them and enjoyed their company, an illusion we call the liking gap."
The researchers observed the liking gap in a number of settings: As strangers got acquainted in the lab, as first-year college students got to know their dorm mates, and as formerly unacquainted members of the general public got to know each other during a professional development workshop.
People tend to be insecure about the impression they're giving, say the research team. "Conversation appears to be a domain in which people display uncharacteristic pessimism about their performance."
And the "liking gap," as they call it, doesn't go away quickly or easily. "The liking gap persisted in conversations of varying lengths, and even for the better part of a year, as college dorm mates developed new relationships.
So after observing different types of people conversing in various settings, what did they conclude? "Our studies suggest that after people have conversations, they are liked more than they know."
That's incredibly encouraging to hear, and should give people the confidence boost they need to reach out and engage others in conversation more frequently. So what can you do to ensure you're connecting on a meaningful level in your conversations with others?
1. Really listen to what the other person is saying.
Rather than spend precious energy thinking of what you're going to say next, turn off the chatter in your head for a moment and really open your ears and your mind to what the person in front of you is saying. Eye contact helps, of course, but you can also demonstrate that you're paying attention through a range of facial and body gestures, as well as audible expressions, that are appropriate to the customs and culture of the country where your conversation is taking place.
2. Ask questions.
Asking questions is an excellent way to demonstrate?--and in a sincere way?--?that you are interested in what someone is saying. It's a way to be proactive in a conversation without dominating air time. And by extracting more information from the other person, it allows you to engage at a more granular level on the topics that interest them most.
3. Share something about yourself.
Listening carefully and asking lots of questions are essential to being a good conversationalist. But you also need to open up yourself and share something about yourself, or your perspective on the topic at hand. This doesn't mean you have to become an "over-sharer," of course. It just means you need to be a giver as well as a "taker" in a conversation.
4. Conceal or mute your electronic devices.
Mute the ringer on your smartphone, turn it face down on the table, or tuck it away somewhere so it isn't visible. Same for laptops: Mute the volume and close the screen so you're not tempted to sneak a peek while you're talking to someone. You want to give the other person your full attention. And even if you're not getting their full attention in return, at least you're making a very visible point about how much your respect their time.