Researchers May Have Discovered a Key to Being Well-Liked at Work

And it’s not what you think.

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In the workplace, many of us avoid asking too many questions for fear of being viewed as annoying or incompetent. But a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people who ask questions, especially those who ask follow-up questions, are deemed more likeable than those who don’t.

Harvard University researchers observed the behavior of 398 volunteers as they interacted with one another online. Participants were grouped in pairs and chatted with one another for 15 minutes using a survey software called ChatPlat. Participants were expected to get to know their matches as much as possible before that window closed, then they answered specific questions about their partner to gage how well the conversations went. Researchers found that participants who asked their partners follow-up questions were perceived as being more likeable than those who didn’t.

Next, the researchers studied face-to-face conversations in the form of speed-dating. They found that people who asked more follow-up questions were not only more well-liked by their speed dates, but they were also more likely to get a second date than those who didn’t ask questions during their first date.

“People spend most of their time during conversations talking about their own viewpoints and tend to self-promote when meeting people for the first time,” Alison Wood Brooks, an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard, and her colleagues wrote. “In contrast, high question-askers—those that probe for information from others—are perceived as more responsive and are better liked.”

It can be difficult (to say the least) to come up with endless questions about your coworker’s Labor Day barbecue or weekend plans, but these findings add weight to the idea that investing energy in others is key to making a solid impression. According to the study’s authors, “most people do not anticipate the benefits of question-asking and do not ask enough questions, people would do well to learn that it doesn’t hurt to ask.”

Read the complete study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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