Published on:

4th Oct 2022

Nine Types Of Active Listening Responses

• To this end, we come to the concept of active listening. It’s a way to participate in conversations while being on the receiving end. Most might think that receiving simply means sitting quietly, but that’s a huge mistake. There are nine types of active listening responses we cover, to be used when trying to connect deeply with someone: comprehending, retaining, responding, restating, reflecting, summarizing, labeling emotions, probing with leading questions, and silence.

• Oversharing may seem like something to avoid, but there is plenty of research to suggest that honestly opening up to others actually makes them like and trust us more. You’ll distinguish yourself from the automatic stereotypes by giving specific details about yourself, and make your life seem more interesting and compelling.

• We can divulge both by revealing additional information or by confessing to how we feel, sharing a story or revealing something unexpected about ourselves. People bond over emotional identification, so don’t worry about appearing weak or vulnerable—divulging will actually encourage others to do the same and foster good rapport.

• When we engage with others, a golden rule of engagement is to focus on finding similarity and creating a sense of a shared experience and familiarity.

Show notes and/or episode transcripts are available at https://bit.ly/social-skills-shownotes

Learn more or get a free mini-book on conversation tactics at https://bit.ly/pkconsulting

#AutomaticStereotypes #EmotionalIdentification #GoodRapport #Oversharing #NineTypesOfActiveListeningResponses #RussellNewton #NewtonMG #PatrickKing #PatrickKingConsulting #SocialSkillsCoaching #ImproveYourPeopleSkills


Active listening is one of the strongest conversation skills you can have in your arsenal. It establishes respect and concern for your partner’s viewpoints and makes it easier for you to process information that’s intricate and difficult to understand through passive listening. It also eases the communication process: active listening helps you learn what the other person’s needs are, and therefore makes you less cautious and more open with your responses.

Perhaps above all else, active listening makes it 100 percent clear and certain that you are comprehending your conversation partner. They know that you’re right there with them.

At the same time, we have to push our ego out of the way so we can truly access what the other person is saying. We call this process “active” listening because it engages so many parts of our mind and makes us do something to understand what’s being communicated.

Therapists are excellent models of how to be an active listener. They listen to their clients with a clear purpose. If there’s something they’re hearing that they’re not 100 percent sure about, they encourage their clients to be clear and deliberate.

These therapists try to restate their patients’ statements and ask them to elaborate on what they mean. Above all, they try to make their clients feel calm and safe about communicating through contemplation, clear body language, and a spirit of empathy. Therapists are driven by a very clear goal of hearing their clients out, and their every response is informed by this goal. Can we say the same about ourselves when we are trying to listen to others?

Active listening involves a few essential types of reactions and inquiries that you can start using almost immediately. These are all designed to ensure that the speaker can feel you are on the same emotional page as them. After all, what’s listening if it’s only going on inside your head, and not being conveyed to the other person?

Comprehending. The first step in active listening is, of course, comprehending what the other person is saying in the first place. If the person who’s talking to us is speaking the same language as we normally do, this process is fairly automatic.

But there are other potential blocks—for example, if the person uses a lot of jargon or slang that we aren’t familiar with or if there are differences in generation, social standing, or culture that we just don’t know enough about. Above all else, you just want to make sure you are on the same emotional page as the speaker, so you can ascertain their needs and desires at the moment.

A great thing to ask if we’re not understanding what someone’s saying is “Can you explain it to me as if I were five years old?” A five-year-old knows enough words to hold a conversation but needs to have relatively complex situations described to them in a very patient, deliberate way using the words they already know. Especially if you think the other person fears appearing condescending or patronizing, asking them to describe something as if you were, let’s say, far younger than your actual age, can make them feel a little more at ease.

Other statements to ask for help comprehending include:

• “What happened?”

• “Tell me your story.”

• “What do you mean?”

• “Tell me more.”

• “Can you clear this part up for me?”

Don’t be afraid of coming across as stupid or interrupting. Most people like to feel like experts, and we are all experts in our own experience. It can even be useful sometimes to be completely transparent about your lack of understanding—if you frame this as a reason for you to listen all the more closely so you can learn!

Retaining. More than just remembering what you just heard, retaining information is hearing what the speaker is trying to say so we can give back a suitable reply. You’re trying to get the whole story here, and this goes far beyond simple facts and events. The goal is to place yourself in the speaker’s shoes as closely as possible, and of course, questions are necessary for that.

When we’re listening to someone, we tend to retain only the details that strike us more personally or in ways that we’re most used to retaining information. But that’s only our lens, and not particularly useful for trying to be a better listener.

For example, if someone’s telling us about a date they went on, we might be the kind who remembers the physical details of the event (what restaurant they went to, what movie they saw, what they were wearing). Or we might recall some more general narrative about the date as a whole (what personality the other person had, what the date “felt like,” how it compared to other dates in the past).

We might not even notice ourselves picking out pieces of the narrative that push our buttons, and internally we can set to work constructing a slightly different story for ourselves than the one we’re being offered. You might have been on the receiving end of this, when you tell someone something as they seem only to latch on to one aspect of the story that definitely wasn’t your focus. Its definitely a way to “listen without listening”!

In conversation we generally look for openings for us to say something and “get our two cents in.” This is normal, but it’s not conducive to active listening. To properly retain what our conversation partner is telling us, we have to put our egos away and focus squarely on the other person’s words, as they are laying them out. It’s not about your interpretation, but theirs.

Again, questions are a powerful tool to frame things and keep your focus on the other person’s expression. To ensure you’re retaining all the relevant information you need, you could ask:

• “What does that mean to you?”

• “And just to be clear, what happened after?”

• “Wait, how did she approach that?”

• “How does that figure into the story?”

• “How did that make you feel?”

• “What was your reaction?”

Responding. Active listening requires an effort to form a knowing and proper response—otherwise, the speaker might feel like they’re talking to a brick wall. As has been said multiple times, listening is anything but passive! An effective response will demonstrate our concern for what our conversation partner is talking about.

You’re listening, comprehending, and retaining already; a quality response will prove that you understand everything the speaker has said and picked up on their nonverbal communication. Imagine that you are speaking to someone, and you’re not sure that they understand the language you are speaking. They give no indication of comprehension—do you feel listened to? That’s why a response is necessary.

Like retaining, it’s important that a response isn’t tinted with our own ego or ideas. You don’t want to respond in ways that suggest you’re trying to steer, manipulate or interpret the conversation according to your own agenda. You’re trying to get a sense of the other person’s feelings and opinions without biases you’ve developed:

Speaker A: And that’s why I don’t like going to dinner parties.

Respondent B: That sounds insane! Were you flustered when that odd man jumped out of the cake?

Speaker A: Not flustered so much as disappointed. I expected something a little more grown-up from the Temperance League.

Respondent B: It must have tried your patience. Did it?

Speaker A: A little bit. But more than anything else, it just proved that I have to start putting some restrictions on the entertainment budget.

Responses in active listening should be reflective of what the speaker has said. They should display a deep interest in your partner’s thoughts and feelings. Rather than expressing our own opinions and viewpoints, good responses in active listening help both parties make their own self-discoveries.

In issuing a quality response, try to reply to your partner’s thoughts and feelings—the factual content is often less relevant than it first appears. You can do this by restating what they’ve said in your own words. Stay within their standpoint when you respond; introducing a suggestion or idea that doesn’t have anything to do with their immediate situation could be too jarring or distracting. Don’t offer a contradictory or conflicting opinion until you have fully understood, as much as you can, everything your partner is conveying to you. And even then, try to keep strong judgments tamped down.

Some positive responses in active listening might be:

• “I’m intrigued by your story.”

• “That sounds like a _____ situation.”

• “I can see how you’d feel that way.”

• “I get the sense that you feel something has to change—what would you like to see happen?”

• “Do you feel _____ about this situation?”

The general goal of active listening is to fully grasp the viewpoint or life experience of the person who’s speaking to you, and for you to absorb that information in a meaningful way that could spur you to new knowledge and understanding. You want to show the other person that you can step inside their world and see their experience from their point of view. To accomplish the goals of comprehending, retaining, and responding, you can employ a few or more of these techniques:

Restating. Paraphrasing your partner’s sentiments in your own words is an exceptional way to facilitate your comprehension. It’s important not to simply repeat what they said back to them like a parrot, but rather to show that you’ve caught the essence of what they were expressing. You’ll recognize this as a kind of “support response” discussed earlier. You’re letting them know that you heard them and are on the same page with them. If you’re not 100 percent right, they will almost certainly be sure to correct you.

Them: That situation confused and scared me.

You: It must have felt like a dangerous moment—it must have been hard to know what to do.

Reflecting. An alternative way of restating is to frame your reply along the lines of emotions rather than events or story points. Reflecting gives the speaker’s story a deeper level that you can prove you have a handle on. Literally tell them, or ask them, about the emotion they are experiencing.

Them: So in the end, my dad said he knew all along I wouldn’t get into that college.

You: That’s terrible. That sounds like a cruel kind of rejection.

Summarizing. Try to verbally round up the details of a speaker’s story into a concise form that displays your grasp of the whole picture. This is similar to restating, but you are going for a broader overview. You can also treat this as a test for your understanding. Many points and arguments may have been stated, and you may have lost sight of the primary emotion, action, or purpose.

You: So the baker got your order wrong, the dinner was burned, and they sent a hypnotist instead of a clown. Man, if that were my kid’s birthday party, I’d feel ticked off!

Label emotions. Often, a speaker will get lost in the practical and physical details of what they’re relating to you. As sensitively as possible, try to identify the emotions they haven’t been able to specifically verbalize yet. This is not inherently difficult to do, as you only have to state a type of positive or negative feeling, but when you accurately label someone’s emotion, you are going to be seen as a psychic. Just watch out that you’re not overreaching or trying to inject your own ideas into the matter.

Them: Finally my boss apologized for overlooking my work and assured me that he was going to pay more attention from now on.

You: Wow, I’m guessing you feel pretty relieved and vindicated by that—not to mention a little cocky.

Probing. Without sounding like an invasive interrogator, try to ask leading questions that will elicit a deeper level of understanding and meaning from the person you’re speaking with. Most people enjoy being asked questions that are well-formed and not too presumptuous. When you probe, you can try to make guesses at how people feel, their reactions and desires. This type of forecasting shows that you are so engaged you want to jump to conclusions with them, and keep riding their train of thought. You’re not only there with them, you’re caught up in their emotions.

You: What did it feel like when that woman berated your kid at the supermarket? How did you really want to respond?

Silence. Frequently there’s more to be said by a well-placed silence than by filling up the space with additional verbiage. Silence can give every participant a miniature moment of time to gather themselves and their thoughts. It could also help reduce the tension that could arise from a heated or fruitless interaction.

Them: And that’s when I decided skydiving wasn’t my thing, especially when it’s work-related.


Not sermonizing, giving unsolicited advice, or glibly reassuring. Nobody likes to be put on a level secondary to someone else, and in communication, this might make the speaker feel like shutting down further discussion.

Them: And worst of all, he cannot remember to put the toilet seat down.

Sermonizing you: You should never have let him in your bathroom in the first place.

Unsolicited advising you: You should barricade the bathroom until he agrees to your demands.

Glibly reassuring you: Don’t worry about it! Tomorrow’s another lovely day full of wonderful possibilities.

Asking leading and open-ended questions. To show that you’re invested in your partner’s well-being, ask some nonbinary questions about their experience. These questions show that you’re ready to get input and that you’re interested in more than just the data or facts of a certain situation.

Them: So I decided, a couple hundred dollars later, perhaps parallel parking was something we were going to have to work a little harder on.

You: How does that make you feel? What are your plans for learning? Where do you plan on doing it? What do you hope comes out of it?

Active listening takes a lot of patient work and practice and can even be challenging for people who are good at it. But it pays off in creating an atmosphere of true comprehension, easier information flow, and increased respect for all parties. What we are trying to do, albeit systematically, with active listening is to catch the habit of being conscious of other people’s emotions and suppressing our own.


We all know annoying know-it-alls. The “technically correct” person who brags or shows off? Good conversational chemistry is not made from fascinating facts or impressive feats. It’s an emotional experience—people bond over how they feel in one another’s company, and not strictly on the content they exchange.

Sharing more about yourself can make others like you more. The principle of self-disclosure involves disclosing information about yourself to make people more interested and emotionally invested in you. It can also make people feel closer to you and more open to sharing things about themselves in exchange. Sharing things about yourself works because it makes you become a real three-dimensional human they can relate to and feel familiar with. When you self-disclose, others will, too, and that’s where you really start to break through barriers.

You’ve probably experienced this already. You might have been on casual acquaintance terms with someone, but one day, you feel the relationship takes a step forward somehow. Why? It’s usually because one or both of you has taken a step to reveal themselves emotionally, and to open up. The problem is, most people don’t do this off the bat. Like in the first principle, you must make the first move and start disclosing things about yourself to encourage the other person to do so. Sadly, the responsibility to initiate likability again falls on you.

Sharing More

Now you may wonder just what to share. What kind of information should you impart? What information is TMI (too much information) and hence will make people not like you? What information is beneficial to share with others and enhances your likability? What should you keep private? People err on the side of appearing mysterious, in control, and invulnerable. (Remember the cool guy? This is him again.)

I’m going to tell you something that may rankle your inner Cool Guy: Generally, the more you disclose, the better. TMI is actually beneficial for your likability because, again, this is how friends relate. Friends are notorious for oversharing without shame or inhibition. They may laugh, gag, or declare, “I didn’t need to know that!” But they still share everything. The sharing, in fact, is a sign of closeness, trust, and familiarity. There’s an old piece of advice that says that if you want to befriend someone, start by acting as if they already are your friend. It works because we switch from being guarded and carefully measured, and instead relax and reveal our true, lovably imperfect selves.

So even if you feel that you are entering TMI territory, that is still better than not disclosing anything because you are still treating others like your friends. And you still stand out in people’s memories as someone genuine, unusual, and noteworthy—in other words, human is better than perfect!

Socializing can be scary. It’s not easy to share yourself with others because there is always the threat, real or perceived, that you will be judged or disliked. We may not even realize that to counter this anxiety, we put a subtle wall around ourselves, being careful never to appear too emotional or even weak. But this is actually the opposite of how it is. By under sharing, you present a version of yourself who is afraid to make any waves . . . and is ultimately very forgettable. In fact, many people find themselves not really liking those people are agreeable and generic and bland. Perhaps they can sense that the whole personality is not fully present?

Share what is on your mind. TMI might include details of your sex life or your controversial opinions that will offend or alienate people. In polite conversation with strangers, these details are not appropriate. But friends love to cross polite boundaries, so to put both this principle and the first one into play, overshare on things you normally would not share with strangers to gain more leverage and likability with others. Share slowly at first to gauge people’s responses, but once you get the sense that someone is on the same page and willing to befriend you as well, you can open the floodgates, so to speak.

The more you reveal about yourself, the more connection points you generate with the other person. You reveal things you like or dislike, which the other person may be able to relate to and disagree or agree with. You can find more things in common as you reveal your preferences, opinions, loves, hates, likes, dislikes, sensitivities, memories, emotions, thoughts, and anecdotes. If you are unsure of whether a particular anecdote is genuinely too much, err on the side of making fun of yourself, revealing an unflattering secret or stating an outrageous but generally harmless opinion or memory. In other words, if you target somehow, it’s best to target yourself.

For example, say you are at a party and meeting with people you have never seen before. Usually this situation is daunting and you feel awkward and clam up with a drink in your hand to protect your fragile ego from rejection by these new people. But using the tips in this book, you disclose a lot about yourself and you talk about how much you like fishing, anime, and knitting, all three of your seemingly unrelated hobbies. You have stories about each of these that you can launch into from normal small talk questions. They speak to your interests, how you react to situations, and your personality in general.

Everyone in the room who loves one of those three things (or can simply relate to how you might react to a situation) can now connect with you, and a conversation is born based on the topic you two share. All you needed to do was answer questions with a series of details about yourself or tell a story about yourself. In this case, you don’t even have to take any risks by revealing something personal; you simply have to volunteer more information than is strictly required.

Think about it this way: provide three details where you would have replied with a one-word answer, or provide three sentences where you would have replied with one sentence. That’s the basic type of step that is needed for self-disclosure to work its wonders. If you had a boring weekend, still name three details so people aren’t left with nothing to work with. It might feel extraneous at first, but it might also let you realize how little you disclose about yourself to others.

Share your emotions. The reason emotions are so powerful is because they are universal. Everyone in the world, from Americans to Aboriginals to African bush people, share similar emotions, emotional responses, and even facial expressions. Scientific studies have shown that people from different cultures can recognize what smiles and frowns mean, which indicates that all people feel and express emotions in similar ways.

So, expressing your emotions and making them known to others is a foolproof method to get others to feel close to you. You access more primal, universal and nonverbal ways to communicate. You become more human and relatable when you express your emotions. And others feel more comfortable expressing their own emotions and agreeing or disagreeing with how you feel once you dare to be open about your emotions. It’s as though, in sharing your own self freely and confidently, you communicate to others that you will receive them in the same way, and that it’s safe to be genuine with you in return. Again, this starts with talking about how happy or sad something makes you—that’s all it takes to open a deeper dialogue.

It can be particularly effective to lean into the kinds of emotions that other people feel less inclined to share. For example, somebody sharing how happy they are about being newly wed to their dream partner will get good reactions from people, but perhaps they may respond more readily when you share an amusing but embarrassing story of something unusual that happened to you. We are all, to some extent, wearing social masks—if you can reveal emotions that temporarily give people a glimpse of the real, imperfect human underneath the mask, you will connect with people on a much more powerful level.

Share stories from your own life. Again, this makes you seem more real and three-dimensional. Even though it doesn’t feel like it, we all go through similar circumstances and struggles every day. We all brush our teeth, hate waking up, and do some kind of work. You almost certainly have some part of your life story that others can relate to. This makes people feel closer to you and lets them laugh and talk about how they went through the same thing. Often, they will start to tell their stories based on yours.

We all have common experiences. We all remember when we learned to ride a bike, embarrassing moments in high school, or disasters in dating. Share your story with gusto to make it seem more engaging and entertaining. Finally, give people room to interject with their own stories so that they can feel as if they are participating and relating to you. You won’t be as likable if you hog the spotlight and never let others talk. The purpose of sharing is to encourage mutual sharing, so don’t keep things focused on you.

Ultimately, you want to just get into the habit of talking about yourself more and sharing things you wouldn’t necessarily think about sharing right now. You can work on even just thinking out loud more. You seem more real and spontaneous to others and you ensure that others can relate to you. You create more conversations out of thin air.

It can be intimidating. You have been taught your whole life to be modest and even private. Now you are going against years of teachings. You may worry that you are bothering others or overstepping boundaries. You may wonder if anyone cares about your weird story or wants to know your opinion. But the thing is, you will find that people actually love it when you talk about yourself more and become more open—it’s an invitation for them to be more genuine and relaxed. You will have an easier time capturing others’ attention, forming bonds, and even having fun with others just because you talk about yourself more.

Be warned, though, that this isn’t permission to focus on yourself to the detriment of the conversational flow. The obvious rules still apply: listen to others, ask questions, and share the floor rather than taking the opportunity to give a speech. The only time where sharing more is a bad move is if you dominate the conversation to do so—for example interrupting someone else’s story so you can interject your own!

No Judging

If you are still on the fence about opening up about yourself, here are some scientific studies that support the value of doing so in social situations.


It was found that the less information people had about a certain subject or person, the more they began to fill in the gaps with information that was stereotypical of a general representation. If I described someone who belonged to a country club, drove an expensive car, played tennis, and liked lacrosse, there’s a very specific image you might conjure up. It’s almost like other people become like Rorschach blots onto which we project our own biases and assumptions—the more vague the picture, the more room for our own personal interpretation to come into things.

To prevent stereotyping and being instantly judged, Hilton and Fein found that simply providing details about the subject completely unrelated to the stereotype in mind diluted the stereotype and made people more likely to trust and like others. The more detail about the person, the better, even if it was completely random. This worked to turn people from members of a homogenous group into unique individuals. When we have limited information, we assume a person is just the same as the most stereotypical representation that has those traits.

When we have more information about someone in any regard, we realize we can’t define them by those one or two traits, and we cease stereotyping and judging. You can make people like you more, stereotype you less, and emotionally invest in you more by providing seemingly useless and nonsensical details about your life. Recall the example of the person who liked anime, knitting and fishing. If they were in the company of people that had unflattering assumptions about anime fans, the detail about fishing and knitting may go a long way to cancelling those out—they might realize, “oh, this is not a stereotype, this is a complex, even contradictory person!”

People like to make fun of TMI as a kind of social faux pas, but the reality is that TMI can ultimately make you more likable. Think about it, who do you like and trust more—the composed, high achieving, perfectly in control person who is nevertheless a little cool emotionally, or the person who is okay with their flaws, confident enough to share their opinions, and happy to reach out to you on an emotional level? Of course, preferably you share positive or at least neutral information about yourself.

You become less of a threat and more of a known quantity. People become less suspicious of you and are more willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. In other words, you start to seem like a friend! By sharing seemingly trivial information about yourself, you allow people to feel like they know you, and they stop making assumptions.

And again, it doesn’t even matter if the details are relevant to your identity, career, nonthreatening nature, or life. You can share your preference of glasses brand, your favorite color, and perhaps where you went to school. The more information about you that is out there, the less readily people can judge and stereotype you, simply because you won’t fit those stereotypes and assumptions anymore.

For example, what if we learned that the person who plays tennis and belongs to a country club was poor growing up and went to college on a tennis scholarship? Also, they drive a twenty-year-old car and prefer to eat burritos. Does that change your view of them? We certainly wouldn’t stereotype and make more assumptions about them like we previously did. In fact, the additional information we’ve learned blows the doors off any category we could put them into. And in a sense, that’s the goal: to make it impossible for us to fit into any broad category or generalization. People are only judging you based on what they aren’t seeing of you.

With more information, people suddenly become three-dimensional and not the static character biographies we see in movies. They are suddenly part of a story, which is also compelling. We are humanized, and we eventually realize that all humans are complex amalgamations. We were never going to fit into a stereotype or box. In reality, you really haven’t done anything profound. You haven’t even given any information that’s important or useful.

Oversharing to maximize likability works to get people to feel that they know different sides of you. An easy way to share more details is to get into the habit of offering unsolicited information. For instance, if someone asks about your weekend, don’t resort to answering, “Good, how about yours?” A guideline I like to use is to give three of four distinct details when answering easy questions—in this way, you will get into the habit of giving people more information, which will make conversation flow better anyway. Here’s an example of zero sharing, little information, and a high likelihood of judgment and stereotyping.

Where are you from?

Oklahoma. You?

If you don’t know anything about a person besides the fact they are from Oklahoma, where does your mind automatically go? It goes to whatever your stereotypes about Oklahoma are. You don’t know if this person was born there, raised there, or only lived there for a couple of years. You don’t know what they feel about Oklahoma. You don’t have the context to make a good judgment about them, and yet you do anyway. So, this one trait defines them in your mind.

Now, here’s an example of why giving unsolicited information can be helpful.

Where are you from?

Oklahoma, but I was born in New York. My parents were originally from France and I grew up visiting France very frequently. Also, I have eight dogs.

Now attempt to put this person into a box. It’s the same person as before, but it’s nearly impossible because there is so much information about them that you simply have to take them as they are. By knowing more about them, they have become more humanized and interesting. You may even find yourself wanting to know more about them. Like, why on earth eight dogs?

The added benefit to sharing unsolicited information and more in general is you make it extremely easy for others to connect with you. When you spout off details about your life, it’s easy for them to find common ground and know you as a person. If you divulge personal information or intimate details of your life, you’ll also be appearing to take the first steps to building trust and showing vulnerability to others. The more that’s out there, the more there is for people to hook on to and relate to.


He split participants into two groups. One group questioned each other on thirty-six very specific and intimate questions, including personal vulnerabilities and insecurities. Sample questions were “What is your most terrible memory?” and “What is your most treasured memory?” It’s impossible to not get personal when faced with these questions. The other group was tasked to ask each other only shallow small talk questions about their everyday lives.

It’s not something people are comfortable doing, but the participants followed directions. We feel like we’re offending people or showing too much of ourselves, which is frightening. But the participants who were tasked with asking each other sensitive and sometimes prying personal questions developed greater levels of trust, rapport, and mutual comfort with one another. They felt emotional closeness, even though they didn’t know each other before the study. Here are some examples of the questions used:

1. Do you want to be famous? For what?

This tells you what a person really values or imagines themselves to be skilled at. This can reveal someone’s deepest desires and fantasies.

2. If you were able to live up to ninety and save either the mind or body of a thirty-year-old, which thing would you want to save?

You learn whether someone values the physical or mental more. You also learn if someone is honest or not.

3. If you could change anything about how you were raised, what would you change?

Here you gain deep insight into someone’s past and history. You learn about his or her regrets and if his or her childhood was happy. You may learn some deeply personal secrets about someone.

4. If you could wake up tomorrow with any one quality, what would that quality be?

This question enables you to learn what someone wants to be and what he or she values in a person. The person you are asking this question of will always answer with the quality that matters most to him or her—or perhaps the one thing they feel they lack.

5. Is there something that you have wanted to do for a long time? Why haven’t you done it yet?

People all have dreams. They also have regrets. Asking someone this lets you uncover what he or she dreams of or what he or she regrets not doing. It also makes him or her like you more because you are essentially goading this person to live his or her dream before it’s too late.

The other group, however, didn’t develop this level of trust, confidence, and intimacy. They essentially remained at their initial level of emotional closeness. Aron proved that when you share information, the receiving parties will like you more and feel closer to you and reciprocate. In a way, effective small talk is anything but small—it represents quite a big leap we take in broaching the distance between being strangers and being close friends.

Finally, according to a study by Theodore Newcomb, people tend to like those who are similar to them. The similarity-attraction effect is where people are drawn to like people. Newcomb measured his subjects’ views on things like sex and politics and then sorted them into a house to live together. The subjects who shared the same viewpoints were usually friendlier by the end of the study than those with dissimilar viewpoints.

To compound the results of Newcomb’s study, another study conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia and Washington University in St. Louis found that Air Force recruits tended to get along better with those who shared their negative personality traits rather than their positive ones. Now, you don’t necessarily have to agree. But here’s the thing. You can only discover possible similarities when you self-disclose. So by sharing more about yourself, you can find things in common that make others like you more.

Even if you don’t ultimately find anything in common, you will still be appreciated by others as frank, forthright and confident. You know all those characters and celebrities that people “love to hate”? The fact is that a genuine person is simply more likeable and appealing—even if you don’t agree with them!

The search for similarity

Think back to the last time you met someone new at a networking event or party. What was the first topic out of your mouth? It was probably one of the following:

• Where are you from?

• Who do you know here?

• How was your weekend?

• Where did you go to school?

• What do you do?

While these are normal small talk questions, we ask them instinctively not because they are great at breaking the ice. In fact, as you well know, they are usually terrible for breaking the ice and can make people feel immediately bored.

We actually ask them instinctively because we are searching for commonalities. We are searching for the “me too!” moment that can spark a deeper discussion. For instance, if we ask the question, “Where did you go to school?” we are hoping they attended the same university as us or a university where we have mutual friends. The next natural question we always ask is a variation of “Oh, wow! What a small world. Do you know James Taylor? He also went there around your time.”

While you may not realize that, you are always hunting for similarities, and similarities are another way of setting a tone of friendship, familiarity, comfort, and openness. It’s the type of feeling you share with your friends, and the same feeling that can instantly skyrocket your rapport.

As much as we would like to think that we are open-minded and can get along with people from every background and origin, the reality is that we usually get along best with people who we think are like us. In fact, we seek them out.

It’s why places like Little Italy, Chinatown, and Koreatown exist.

But I’m not just talking about race, skin color, religion, or sexual orientation. I’m talking about people who share our values, look at the world the same way we do, and have the same take on things as we do. As the saying goes, birds of a feather flock together. This is a very common human tendency that is rooted in how our species developed. Walking out on the tundra or in a forest, you would be conditioned to avoid that which is unfamiliar or foreign because there is a high likelihood it would be interested in killing you.

Similarities make us relate better to other people because we think they’ll understand us on a deeper level than other people. If we share at least one significant similarity, then all sorts of positive traits follow, because we see them as our contemporary, essentially an extension of ourselves. When you think someone is on your level, you want to connect with them because they will probably understand you better than most.

Suppose you were born in a small village in South Africa. The population of the village ranges from nine hundred to one thousand people. You now live in London and you are attending a party at a friend’s home. You meet someone that also happens to be from that small village in South Africa, just eight years older so you never encountered each other.

What warm feelings will you immediately have toward this other person, and what assumptions will you make about them? How interested will you be in connecting with them and spending more time together in the future? What inside jokes or specialized points of reference can you discuss that you haven’t been able to with anyone else, ever?

Hopefully that illustration drives home the value of similarity and how it drives conversational connection.

We typically use the small talk questions I mentioned at the top of this chapter to find similarity, but there are better, more effective ways to find similarities with people. For instance, we should always be searching for similarities or creating them. They both take effort and initiative.

We can search for similarities by asking probing questions of people and using their answers as the basis to show similarity, no matter how small. Ask questions to figure out what people are about, what they like, and how they think. Then dig deep into yourself to find small commonalities at first, such as favorite baseball teams or alcoholic drinks. Through those smaller commonalities, you’ll be able to figure out what makes them tick and find deeper commonalities to instantly bond over. Just as you’d be thrilled to meet someone from that small South African town, you’d be thrilled to meet someone who shared a love of the same obscure hobby as you.

It doesn’t take months or years, and it doesn’t take a special circumstance like going through boot camp together. It just requires you to look outside of yourself and realize that people share common attitudes, experiences, and emotions—you just have to find them. Get comfortable asking questions and digging deeper than you naturally would. (Is it odd for you to ask five questions in a row? It shouldn’t be.) It might even feel a little invasive at first. Find them and use them!

itivity when tested (Anderson:

You can mirror their words, their tone of voice, and their mannerisms. Keep in mind that mirroring is not just about reflecting them on a wholesale basis. Instead, it is all about communicating to them that you share similar values and have the potential to connect intimately.

You can mirror physical signals, gestures, tics, and mannerisms. For example, if you notice that someone uses a lot of gestures when talking, you should do the same. Similarly, if you notice that someone’s body language involves a lot of leaning and crossing of arms, you should do the same.

You can mirror their verbal expressions and expressiveness—tone of voice, inflection, word choice, slang and vocabulary, emotional intonation, and excitement and energy.

Similarities are easier to find when you share personal information and divulge details.

Statement one: You went skiing last month.

Statement two: You went skiing last month with your two brothers and you almost broke your foot.

Which of those stories is easier to relate to and find a similarity with? Obviously, the second version since there is literally three times as much information. If you are having trouble connecting with others, it’s likely you are expecting to find a similarity without sharing anything yourself.

If sharing even this amount of detail feels uncomfortable and unnatural for you, it’s a sign you probably don’t give your conversation partners much to work with and you are essentially dropping the conversational ball when it is hit back to you. You may be the cause of awkward silence more often than not, because others will expect a back and forth flow, but they end up doing all the work while you wonder what’s wrong.

In other words, get used to this feeling of discomfort because it’s something you need to improve upon.

Mutual dislike is just as good as a similarity and might even be more fun. Have you noticed that it is sometimes inevitable for the conversation to remain positive, and the conversation will veer into a set of complaints about something you both dislike?

It’s easy to discount these discussions because people think talking about negativity is a negative thing. However, it’s absolutely valuable in your quest for connection because negativity and hate is a strong, powerful emotion.

When you check out a new restaurant, think about the reviews you’ll read about it. You’ll either read highly positive, gushing reviews or, more likely, the negative reviews filled with hate and spite. Hatred moves us into action like nothing else.

Some relationship counselors have even gone so far as to quip that a sign of highly successful relationships is the ability to hate the same things and people.

It’s not negative to talk about negativity because it’s an emotion like any other, and the more emotion you can generate in your interaction, the greater an impression you will make.

What’s ultimately important is seeing eye to eye once again. How many friendships have been built in army boot camps, where the singular common bond was a hatred for the suffering they went through? How many friendships have been built on the back of hating the same teacher or morning schedule? You’ve bonded over common dislike far more often than you realize, so you shouldn’t stray away from it.


• To this end, we come to the concept of active listening. It’s a way to participate in conversations while being on the receiving end. Most might think that receiving simply means sitting quietly, but that’s a huge mistake. There are nine types of active listening responses we cover, to be used when trying to connect deeply with someone: comprehending, retaining, responding, restating, reflecting, summarizing, labeling emotions, probing with leading questions, and silence.

• Oversharing may seem like something to avoid, but there is plenty of research to suggest that honestly opening up to others actually makes them like and trust us more. You’ll distinguish yourself from the automatic stereotypes by giving specific details about yourself, and make your life seem more interesting and compelling.

• We can divulge both by revealing additional information or by confessing to how we feel, sharing a story or revealing something unexpected about ourselves. People bond over emotional identification, so don’t worry about appearing weak or vulnerable—divulging will actually encourage others to do the same and foster good rapport.

• When we engage with others, a golden rule of engagement is to focus on finding similarity and creating a sense of a shared experience and familiarity.

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About the Podcast

Social Skills Coaching
Become More Likable, Productive, and Charismatic
While everyone wants to make themselves and their lives better, it has been hard to find specific, actionable steps to accomplish that. Until now...

Patrick King is a Social Interaction Specialist, in other words, a dating, online dating, image, and communication, and social skills coach based in San Francisco, California. He’s also a #1 Amazon best-selling dating and relationships author with the most popular online dating book on the market and writes frequently on dating, love, sex, and relationships.

He focuses on using his emotional intelligence and understanding of human interaction to break down emotional barriers, instill confidence, and equip people with the tools they need for success. No pickup artistry and no gimmicks, simply a thorough mastery of human psychology delivered with a dose of real talk.

About your host

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Russell Newton