MAUGHAN: Don’t go to that dinner party!
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DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.
MAUGHAN: I’m Mike Maughan.
DUCKWORTH + MAUGHAN: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.
Today on the show: how do you deepen your connection with someone you care about?
DUCKWORTH: He knows that I’m pulling out a trick from the supportive listening workshop, it still works!
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MAUGHAN: Angela, last week we talked about how to connect with people that we just met. I’d love to continue the conversation and talk about how we connect with people that we already know on a deeper level.
DUCKWORTH: So, not meeting people for the first time, but deepening our relationships.
MAUGHAN: Yeah. Deepening relationships with people that you already have association with, that you know on some level. But give me your reaction to that, and what does science tell us about how to connect deeper with people?
DUCKWORTH: Well, I want to say, first of all, that talking about relationships and having better relationships is exactly what we should be talking about, at least, if you care about happiness. There’s a great book. I love this book. I love even more the research the book is based on, but the book is fantastic. It’s by Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz, and it’s called The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness. And indeed, there is a study called “The Harvard Study” that has been tracking the same people for 84 years and counting. I guess by now it’s probably 85.
MAUGHAN: Oh, so it’s still going?
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, it’s, um — well, you know, people don’t live forever, so let’s just say that at some point they will stop following, you know, even the last participant in the study. But what they’ve done is they’ve asked these people, I don’t know, like, hundreds, maybe thousands of questions over the years. And one of the central goals of the study is to understand what makes people happy and healthy. And the bottom line is that relationships are the bedrock of health and happiness. And you could ask, like, what else is there? Well, there’s lots of other things it could be. I mean, it could be your income. It could be your social status.
MAUGHAN: Well, health, right? If you’re not healthy, that seems a crummy life.
DUCKWORTH: Well, but the health in this case is, like, the outcome, right? They were like, what can you do in your life in order to be physically healthy and to be mentally happy?
MAUGHAN: Oh, so it’s both physically healthy and happy, not just happy. Got it.
DUCKWORTH: Let me just read you, like, in their words: “Good relationships are significant enough that if we had to take all 84 years of the Harvard study and boil it down to a single principle for living, it would be this: Good relationships keep us healthier and happier, period.”
MAUGHAN: Well, and so here’s the question, then: How do you create these good relationships, but on a deeper level? I’ll just use an example from work, and then I’d love your reaction to it. So, for years I had this large team at work. We did great work together. I think everybody vibed really well.
DUCKWORTH: This is at Qualtrics?
MAUGHAN: This is at Qualtrics and everybody kind of meshed and it was a good, very productive, very high-output team. And we took a day or two to meet together as a team and just get to know one another on a deeper level. And I had everybody watch a TED Talk, and read a paper or two, and then stand up and, tell everybody something that, that we didn’t know about them. And I thought that it was going to be a rather surface-level conversation, but it got really deep really quickly. It started with somebody standing up and talking about how she had just had her fifth miscarriage. She’s in tears. Another person talked about how she was so driven at work because her mom had, in essence, been in a very unhealthy relationship with her dad, but could never — never felt like she could get divorced because she was so reliant on his income and she had no way to support herself. And so, this woman said, “I will never be in that situation.” All of these stories started coming out and I thought, “Man, I’ve worked with these people for years, and I don’t know them at all.” I thought I did. They know, you know, how I work. I know how they work, but the level of intimacy that developed on the team, moving forward, I think allowed us to be much more empathetic, but also work much more closely and fluidly with each other than we ever had before, because we hadn’t ever opened up to the level of personal. It didn’t feel like the old T.M.I. — too much information — nobody went that deep, but it was enough that we could connect with people on a much more human level versus what I learned had been a more surface-level relationship for as much as I thought I knew all these people.
DUCKWORTH: So, what was the magic? You said you assigned them a TED Talk? Like, watch any TED Talk? Was there —?
MAUGHAN: No, I assigned them a specific TED Talk. I mean, it was a Brené Brown vulnerability talk.
DUCKWORTH: Oh, the Brené Brown vulnerability talk.
MAUGHAN: Yeah, so people came in with that idea, but again, I was not prepared. I had not thought to share on that level. And I learned a huge lesson that day that for as well as you think you know someone, and as well connected as you think you are with groups, there’s so much more that happens when you actually get to know each other on a deeper level.
DUCKWORTH: Well, do you think the Brené Brown vulnerability TED Talk was elemental to this? Because people go on retreats all the time, and they don’t always share things that make them closer to each other.
MAUGHAN: Right, and so it had been anchored that way, for sure, but I guess I was still surprised at the level of intimacy that developed. And what shocked me more is these are people I work with and talk to more than anyone else in the world almost, and I didn’t know these deep things that motivated them, and I felt like a really bad boss and an even worse friend for the fact that we’d never really engaged on this level.
DUCKWORTH: And then you felt like a good boss and a good friend for having finally come around to it. You know, last week, we talked about the 36 questions that the psychologists Aron and Aron developed for creating intimacy. That original study was pairing strangers with each other and getting them from zero to, you know, whatever, 75 miles per hour on the highway of intimacy. Like, really, really quickly it accelerates that. But what we’re talking about is how to go from already cruising along some highway of intimacy and getting even faster. But in a way, what you’re saying is that the same kind of procedure works. Like, the thing that gets us close to a stranger might also get us closer to a co-worker or even a friend that you already know pretty well.
MAUGHAN: Yeah, and I think the reason this worked so well is because it was sort of a forced experience — not that we were forcing anyone to share anything. I just mean we intentionally stepped back and said, “Let’s have a time to get to know each other.” And it was a reminder that there’s so much value to creating an atmosphere where you dive deeper into people’s stories in a way that I think normal day-to-day interaction in a job or a workplace — or even among friends — you don’t necessarily go into these questions.
DUCKWORTH: And it’s not just friends, it can be family members, right? Like, even the person you’re married to or your children, your brother, your sister. What’s striking to me is that a lot of the things that work for getting you closer to a stranger also work to getting you closer to somebody you already know. So, when you talk about the retreat that you had and, you know, you’ve been working with these people for years, but you’re actually, like, sharing stories that are vulnerability stories — and that is why I think Brené Brown’s TED Talk went viral is that she spoke about vulnerability as the elemental aspect of relationships and the human experience. There is also research that we haven’t talked about before, I think that’s really important for improving relationship quality, from Harry Reis. And He has spent his whole life trying to understand how people become more and more intimate with each other. And what he emphasizes is listening. So, Harry Reis says, look, what you really want in a close relationship is to feel like your partner is responding to you. They understand you. They care about you. They want what’s best for you. Right? So, if you want to have that kind of relationship — say, Jason as my partner. I already know him really well. He’s my husband. We’ve been married for 25 years. But if I want to maintain and even deepen our marriage, then what I need to do is to listen. And listening the way Harry Reis talks about it, it’s a really active process. When you are listening to your partner, are you verbally and non-verbally paying complete attention to what they’re saying? Are you signaling that you are paying attention to what they’re saying? Are you trying to, like, process and understand it with interest and with benevolence? That’s the kind of listening that Harry Reis says no matter who it is that you’re trying to connect to — in addition to sharing your own vulnerabilities — what you on the receiving end, when they’re sharing their vulnerabilities, need to do is this kind of active listening. And I think that is something that I can do better. You know, I’m a psychologist who — I’ve read this stuff before, but I don’t know, even after 25 years of marriage, I think I am becoming a better listener than I have been.
MAUGHAN: The other thing, though, is that when you’re actually interested, I feel like you don’t have to actively be like, “I hear what you’re saying and —.” You just — if you care about someone, that is a very natural outflow of any sort of conversation. Is that not true?
DUCKWORTH: I think there’s an extent to which, you know, “Well, do we really need to script this? Like, how intentional do we need to be?”
MAUGHAN: Well, because that feels very fake to me, and not intimate at all. It’s almost like when you’re in couples counseling and you have to — you have to come back and be like, “What I hear you say is —. And that makes me feel —.”
DUCKWORTH: You know what? It works though. I mean, here’s the thing. Yes, I think it is in a way — first of all, it’s totally mockable, right?
MAUGHAN: Yes. In the TV show The Office, I think for years the audience has been rooting for this Jim and Pam relationship. They finally get married, they have kids, and all of a sudden they’re not on the page, they’re doing this couples therapy, and you watch their communication and it’s so sad and so forced.
DUCKWORTH: They’re mocking it, right? I assume? were they — were they in counseling where the therapist said, “Now, Pam, you use an I statement. Say, I feel that,” and then —
MAUGHAN: Kind of. I mean, you never see them actually in therapy, but they’re not exactly mocking it. I think — I remember watching it for the first time thinking, “Oh no, if you’re demonstrating supportive listening this way, this only goes a bad direction.”
DUCKWORTH: I mean, here’s the thing, when you do need to do it, it’s better to do it than to not do it. It’s better to have this slightly stilted, like, okay, “Well, now I’m going to paraphrase what I hear you saying, and then you’re going to tell me whether I got it right” — better to do that when you need to than to just wish your way back to when you didn’t need to do it, right?
MAUGHAN: I think that’s fair, and like with all things, the more you do it, the more natural it becomes, and I guess it leads to this opportunity to better know one another.
DUCKWORTH: I mean, even if it doesn’t become fluent — honestly, my collaborator, James Gross at Stanford, we talk every week, I mean, I’ve known him for, I guess, let’s see, 12 years. We’ve written many papers together. We work really well with each other. And even, you know, now, we choose to use this technique. I say all the time, and he says to me, like, “What I hear you saying is —.” I guess maybe as an outsider you’d be like, that is so weird, but I think it’s great!
MAUGHAN: Well, does it only work because you both use the same language? Meaning: if you were having this supportive listening type of conversation with someone who is not schooled in it, I imagine it’s helpful, but then they are maybe not reciprocating the same way.
DUCKWORTH: Well, let me say this. It does help that James Gross and I both want to use this technique. It helps that Jason and I went to the same supportive listening workshop. But we went to that supportive listening workshop, and our kids were younger, and we were using it, quote-unquote, “on them.” Like, they would be really upset and we would say things like, “What I hear you saying is—” and then we would paraphrase. So, I know that it can also work when it’s one way, as it were, when only one of the parties is trained in listening in this way. And here’s, I think, what is at the core of it — and maybe that’ll make it less gross to you, or more palatable — when you say things like, “what I hear you saying is,” and then fill in the blank, “do I have that right?” — you’re also giving your partner, right, your husband, your wife, your kid, your colleague — you’re giving them the opportunity to correct you. Because sometimes, it’s not what that person said. It’s like, “No, no, no, that’s not what I meant.” It’s like, “Well, you got that 75 percent correct, but here’s what I really mean.” And the thing about when Jason and I would get into arguments — I say that in the past tense like we never do anymore, but —.
MAUGHAN: Congratulations. Couples therapy has nailed it for you.
DUCKWORTH: Well, okay, present tense. When we get into arguments, I get so mad when he skips over the step of actually signaling to me, in a way that’s authentic, but like really listening.
MAUGHAN: Sort summarizing what he thinks you said.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, because I want to feel heard. And that is again, you know — I love this research by Harry Reis. And when he talks about what people really want in relationships, what he often highlights is that we want to feel understood. We want to feel seen. So yes, I want to solve the problem. Yes, I want to sometimes get Jason to change his behavior or we have to do something. But before all of that, I want to feel like he has heard me, and I want to feel seen. I know that sounds so cheesy, but that’s how I feel about being in therapy, too. Like, my therapist, Dee, like, she sees me and it feels great.
MAUGHAN: I think that’s totally fair. I mean, we’re talking, of course, about how do you connect with people you already know. There’s this idea of being very intentional about creating spaces for that. Oprah, as I’m sure you may be familiar with this quote — but Oprah, on the very final talk show she ever did before she went off the air, she talked about how she had talked to over 30,000 people, and she said the 30,000 people had one thing in common. She said they all wanted validation. “If I could reach through this television and sit on your sofa or sit on a stool in your kitchen right next to you, I would tell you that every single person you will ever meet shares that common desire. They want to know: Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?” They want this validation. The other really interesting research lately, just on the workforce, comes from a Gallup poll where they talk about: if people feel like they have a, quote, “best friend” at work, they’re much more likely to recommend the organization to other people. They’re much less likely to be looking for a job. They’re much more likely to be satisfied with where they are. Nothing to do with their job, or their title, or their pay. Just: do they have a really good friend at work? And I think that goes back to what you’re talking about. When you have someone you consider a best friend at work, that probably means they’re more likely to be able to connect with someone at work and therefore feel validated in what they do, and it has all of these positive externalities.
DUCKWORTH: Right. So, look, the idea that we want to be validated, you know, from Gallup, from Oprah Winfrey, that’s a part of it. Like, validation and understanding are very close, but understanding is like, “Oh, I see what you’re saying.” And validating is like, “I respect that,” right? Like, even if I don’t agree with you. I think validation is a lot about respect. And then, the third element, according to Harry Reis, of, like, the Holy Trinity of, like, a really, really good relationship is this caring piece, like, feeling that there’s some affection, right? There’s some concern or warmth. I mean, all those things you accomplish when you do this supportive listening. Like, “What I hear you saying is—.” Okay, so you get the understanding. Just saying that out loud is validation. Like, I am not going to argue with you right now. I’m just going to state what I hear you saying, and that itself is a form of validation. And I think this back and forth where you, like, then follow up, “Do I have this right? And what if I did that?” Like, that’s caring. And I think this might seem stilted, but I don’t know, Oprah Winfrey and other people who are really good at this — I mean, there are people who actually are better than others at connecting in this “vibey” way. I think they might do things fluently and without a lot of conscious thought that maybe the rest of us have to do a little more clumsily. Right?
MAUGHAN: It starts out clumsily. But I think your point is you can get better at it.
DUCKWORTH: You might get better at it, but like I said, even if it’s clumsy, it still works. I mean, it really does. Even when I say things like, “Jason, what I hear you saying is —,” and he knows that I’m pulling out a trick from the supportive listening workshop, it still works! So, I think what we’re trying to get at is like being on the same page with people. And we would love to hear from our listeners. We want to know if you have a story of someone in your life that you connected with a little better recently, a little more deeply recently. Could be a family member, could be a romantic partner, co-worker, but we want to know: how did you deepen this relationship, and what’s going on right now? Tell us your name. Tell us where you’re from. Record your voice memo in a quiet place with your mouth close to the phone, and email us at NSQ@freakonomics.com. We would love to play your story on a future episode of the show.
Still to come on No Stupid Questions: Angela and Mike put their relationship to the test.
MAUGHAN: This is really hard to do with a non-spouse.
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Now, back to Angela and Mike’s conversation about close relationships.
MAUGHAN: So, let me ask this. I’m sure you have people — whether it’s Jason or, or someone at work — where you feel like you can read each other’s minds. You’ve gotten to a point of that level of connection. How did you get there or what’s different about that relationship than maybe others that haven’t gotten to that level?
DUCKWORTH: Well, all this listening is good for, like, putting yourself into the same world perspective, and I was actually literally reading Jason a quote from this, um, J.P.S.P. article. So, J.P.S.P. is the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and it’s a flagship journal in this space. It’s, like, arguably the number one journal for researchers who study personality and social dynamics, and the paper was called, “Merged Minds: Generalized Shared Reality in Dyadic Relationships.” And the reason I wanted to read to Jason from it is they have a scale for how much you and your partner have a merged worldview. And the idea from these researchers is that one of the really important pieces of intimacy is that you feel like you see the world in the same way. Like, you go to a dinner party and “Oh my gosh, that one guy is being such an ass.”
MAUGHAN: Don’t go to that dinner party.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, But like, if you think this guy’s being an ass, but your spouse is like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” that’s not having a merged mind, right? When I met Jason, I remember, like, very shortly after we met, maybe in the first couple of days, we went to some picnic. It was like one of these — I don’t know, we were both graduate students. There was free food. I don’t remember the exact context.
MAUGHAN: Nobody loves free food more than a graduate student.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, we were mature graduate students, but we still were grooving on the free food. But there was a moment in time where I looked at him and he looked at me — and, remember, we had just met, like, days earlier — and we both really wanted to leave. And the fact that we both felt the same way at the same time made us feel so close. I mean, it’s part of why we were close. But the idea here is that that sense of having the same worldview kind of puts money in the bank for relationships. So, here’s what I’m going to do, Mike. I’m going to read you the questions, and you can answer them for you and me, because it’s not just for married partners. I will also say that when I read them to Jason, he laughed out loud, he agreed with every single one, and then he said, “Did they write that scale for us?”
MAUGHAN: Oh wow, okay.
DUCKWORTH: And he was like, “Did you write that scale?” I was like, “No, this is not my paper.” So, here you go. Please rate your agreement, Mike, with the following statements about you, and in this case, me. It goes from “strongly disagree,” that’s a one, to “strongly agree,” so that’s a seven. Okay? Number one: “We frequently think of things at the exact same time.”
MAUGHAN: I mean, probably not, right?
DUCKWORTH: You can be honest! You’re not gonna hurt my feelings. We’re not married.
MAUGHAN: I’d probably go with a three.
DUCKWORTH: “Through our discussions, we often develop a joint perspective.”
MAUGHAN: I’m gonna go with a five on that. I think we’re very close friends. I think I learn a lot from you. But I think what makes it fun is that we don’t always necessarily end up seeing things the exact same way, and there’s a respectful nature to the conversation, but it’s like, I come from business and sports, you come from more academia and teaching, and they merge. But there is also respect for the fact things can be seen or applied differently?
DUCKWORTH: This is not a scale that is attempting to capture, like, every positive aspect of a relationship. I think when you talk about worldviews being merged, it is about the sameness and not about the, like, useful differences and the complementarities. It’s just about sameness. Here’s the next item. “We typically share the same thoughts and feelings about things.”
MAUGHAN: Again, I’m gonna go with a five.
DUCKWORTH: “Events feel more real when we experience them together.”
MAUGHAN: I mean, I think that’s true for every — seven, right?
DUCKWORTH: “The way we think has become more similar over time.”
MAUGHAN: This is really hard to do with a non-spouse.
DUCKWORTH: Well, you don’t have to have a merged worldview with me, Mike.
MAUGHAN: I know. I think that that’s maybe five.
DUCKWORTH: “We often anticipate what the other is about to say.”
DUCKWORTH: “We are more certain of the way we perceive things when we are together.”
MAUGHAN: Probably true, six.
DUCKWORTH: “We often feel like we have created our own reality.”
MAUGHAN: I don’t even know what that means in this context. So I’m going to go with like a, uh, three.
DUCKWORTH: I remember reading that question to Jason, and I was like, that is a kind of a weird item. And he didn’t hesitate. He was like, “Seven.”
MAUGHAN: I mean, I love that idea in terms of, like, a couple, a family, right? You’ve created your own reality, this is what you want your world to be. I don’t know how that applies as well outside the construct of a romantic partner or a family situation.
DUCKWORTH: Look, Jason’s going to be very happy that his score is higher than yours, right? Like, yeah, we should, as a husband and wife, have more of a, a shared reality. But I think this general idea of when we have a friend, a colleague, a spouse, a child, one of the things that makes that relationship special and that, you know, can actually change is that you can actually have more and more of a shared reality. And I do think this active listening, it’s a different research tradition, but I think that that helps, right? There’s another interesting research study, actually comes out of neuroscientists. One of them is Thalia Wheatley, and I love Thalia. She’s at Dartmouth. The first author is Emma Templeton, and it’s called “Fast Response Times Signal Social Connection in Conversation.” And what they did is they recorded people’s conversations, they did this with friends — they also did it with strangers. But if you put two friends together and you look to see how quickly they respond to each other — in other words, like, how short is the blank time, the silent time, between their conversational turns? So, how quickly the tempo of the conversation goes.
MAUGHAN: So, it’s not how quickly they go back and forth, but once someone stops talking, how quickly the next person starts.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, I guess it’s, like, how much dead time is there in between one partner’s utterance and the other partner’s utterance. What they found was that the shorter the pause, the closer the social connection.
MAUGHAN: Okay, but here’s what I immediately am thinking. I had a conversation yesterday with a dear friend, but it was very heavy. And so, I think those kinds of conversations naturally lead themselves to more pauses, more thought, because you want to craft a response. So, it’s not involving maybe a sort of heavy conversation, but more just casual conversation and how quickly you’re able to spar ideas back and forth?
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, they did not ask these people to have really serious conversations about really difficult topics. So, a more typical conversation. They even went a further step and they took these conversations — you know, it’s audio recordings, right? So, you can actually manipulate the pause.
MAUGHAN: Are they going to judge this podcast and see? Because I was trying to exercise supportive listening, so I was not interrupting you for a while.
DUCKWORTH: No, no, no. Supportive listening would be not just not interrupting me. It would be like, “What I hear you saying, Angela, is—.”
MAUGHAN: What I hear you saying is that you think I didn’t listen to anything you said about supportive listening.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, that’s — right.
MAUGHAN: I did listen. Sorry.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Well, no. If they were going to judge this podcast on whether we have a social connection, what these researchers would do is they would look for the pauses. Now, of course, there’s an editor, so, like, we can make it seem like we have more intimate conversations by just reducing that time. And that’s actually what these researchers did. So, they wanted to see whether this was really true, so they experimentally manipulated recordings, and they had people listen to the recordings, and the more one person is just taking the conversational baton from the other seamlessly — I mean, just think about it this way. If I say, “Hey Mike, where do you want to go for lunch?” And there’s a pause, and then you answer, like, “I guess we could go out to In-N-Out Burger,” pause—.
MAUGHAN: It shows that, like, I don’t feel safe answering the question, because I’m trying to figure out where you want to go versus I know you’re going to feel okay if I pick whatever — something like that?
DUCKWORTH: Well, it is, I think, an “honest signal,” as the researchers call it. They call it an “honest signal of social connection.” They say that, by the way, because when they’re talking about these pauses, it’s not a matter of seconds, so it’s even hard for me to model it. It’s really on the order of, like, 250 milliseconds, a quarter of a second, which they say is so fast, you can’t fake it. Like, I can’t pretend to have chemistry with Jason. So, it’s kind of a, a symptom, an honest sign that you can’t manipulate — unless you’re going to literally manipulate an audio file.
MAUGHAN: Unless you are actually that close.
DUCKWORTH: Right. So, you know, the conclusion of their paper says, “This brevity is a feat of coordination that provides a natural, honest heuristic about how well the conversation is going.” But Mike, the investment of active listening — or “supportive listening,” however you want to call it — I think the payoff isn’t just in that conversation, it’s in developing this closeness, which pays off in later interactions. I think this really, really short time between what one person says, the next person, this kind of vibing is the result of years of active listening.
MAUGHAN: I think it’s active listening and also getting to know — I would just say from the professional context — getting to know people’s stories and getting to know them on a very real basis. So, that’s where, on this “connect with someone you already know” — as silly as some of them are, these-team building activities, this opportunity to create this connection, I think has a really powerful impact on a lot of individuals, because it creates that intimacy that you wouldn’t get in any other way. I will say that I’ve also found — and would love your take on this — but have also found that in connecting with people that you already know, a lot of that is taking a level of self awareness as to who you are and how other people are. I have a very close friend who signaled to me that often in professional settings, I will start a question by saying something like, “I’m not trying to be dumb but—,” and then I’ll ask the question. And he said, “You say that a lot.”
DUCKWORTH: You say that a lot.
MAUGHAN: Here’s why I do it though is because, especially in the workplace, I have a bit of a strong personality. I try to be very approachable, but sometimes when I’m asking very genuine questions, people can think that I am either trying to point out something that’s obvious, but really I don’t know —.
DUCKWORTH: You’re not using it as a saber. You’re literally just trying to figure out what the answer to the question is.
MAUGHAN: Right, but I found that if I don’t indicate that I’m not trying to put them on the spot, or I’m not being patronizing, then often people will respond as though I am threatening them versus just coming very, very honestly to them saying, “Let’s have a real conversation.” And so, part of the ability to connect with some of these people that I already know is recognizing that either my position and personality are such that if I don’t approach it that way, then sometimes people respond in a way that is not helpful. Maybe that’s not the best way to do it. I don’t know what the right way is, but that’s what I have found: if I start that way, then people often are much more willing to open up and engage rather than feel like they’re being quizzed.
DUCKWORTH: Well, I will say this, Mike, because I have been with you as a friend for quite some time. When I read these Harry Reis behaviors that indicate to your other person — whoever it is, you know, your colleague, your friend — that you’re really listening, I think you do quite well. And this is almost like a checklist. So, the verbal listening behaviors are: reflecting back or paraphrasing, open questions, validation — you do that a lot, I think. You say, like, “Oh, that makes sense to me.” You know, “What I hear you saying is —. And, like, that makes sense.” Utterances — I think this is just like, “uh huh, right, yeah.” And then using the speaker’s name.
MAUGHAN: You are actually remarkable at that.
DUCKWORTH: That’s a Dale Carnegie trick, right?
MAUGHAN: Yes, I think he said — what? “The most beautiful sound in the world is the sound of your own name?” Something like that?
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, when I was talking to Danny Kahneman about Dale Carnegie, I was like, “Do you think that book works?” And he was like, “Oh, the book where you’re supposed to use another person’s name?” And I was like, “Wow, that has got to be the single most memorable thing that Dale Carnegie says.” I do it because I like it when people use my name. So, as a matter of respect, I use theirs. But you do really well on the verbal listening behaviors. But I also want to say that you do well on Harry Reis’s list of nonverbal listening behaviors too. And these are: facial expressions, right? — It’s not like your face is like —.
MAUGHAN: Overly contorted.
DUCKWORTH: You contort appropriately — head nodding, body posture, so you’re, you know, leaning slightly forward, eye gaze, you look me slash the other people that you’re talking to in the eyes. And here is the last nonverbal listening behavior that I need to say, like, this is why there’s a little nuance here. We just talked about how turn taking and this, like, very short time where it’s, like, practically finishing each other’s sentences is a sign — an honest sign — of intimacy. But the last nonverbal listening behavior is — and I think you caught it already when I was telling you about that — is silence. So, while rapidly, you know, finishing the other person sentences and interruption is good in terms of a sign of intimacy, you know, when you’re really listening to someone, you often punctuate the conversation with moments of nothing.
MAUGHAN: Yeah. It’s interesting. I’ve often said among friends that you know you’ve reached a level of friendship where you can sit in silence and it’s not awkward. There’s that level of intimacy and connection where you don’t have to force something all the time.
DUCKWORTH: I was going to say something but I decided to sit here in silence.
No Stupid Questions is produced by me — Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now here’s a fact-check of today’s conversation: In the first half of the show, Angela references The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness, a book by Harvard professor of psychiatry Robert Waldinger and Bryn Mawr professor of psychology Marc Schultz. She says that the work is based on conclusions from “The Harvard Study” — a longitudinal study that has been tracking the health and happiness of its participants for 85 years. The full name of the study is “The Harvard Study of Adult Development.” She also says that, at some point, the researchers will stop following even the very last participant. However, the project will not end when the study subjects pass away. In fact, the researchers are now beginning to study the children of the original participants in what they’re referring to as the second generation of the Study of Adult Development.
Later, Angela and Mike discuss writer Dale Carnegie’s famous advice to use your conversation partner’s name from his 1936 book How to Win Friends and Influence People. Mike recalls that Carnegie said something like, “The most beautiful sound in the world is the sound of your own name.” The actual passage is from Chapter 6, where Carnegie lists five major principles to get people to like you instantly. He summarizes this particular concept, Principle 3, as, quote, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” He advises readers to, “Remember that name and call it easily, and you have paid a subtle and very effective compliment. But forget it or misspell it – and you have placed yourself at a sharp disadvantage.” On an unrelated note, I’d like to conclude by thanking my bosses Angela Duckworth and Mike Maughan for their wonderful work on today’s show. That’s it for the fact-check.
Before we end today’s show, let’s hear some of your thoughts about last week’s episode about connecting with someone you just met.
Juan MATOS: Hi, my name is Juan, calling from Miami, Florida. As somebody who operates with some level of social anxiety, sometimes connecting with people can be really tough, but definitely the relationships that I feel really close to are with people that we’ve just had like these magnetic interactions. Within the first 10 seconds of meeting each other, there’s something kind of unspoken — that there’s just, like, this kind of vibrational energy, which is super rare, but very, very special. And I think that those relationships have definitely lasted in my life.
Connie LEE: Hi, this message is in response to the question about bonding with someone you just met. When I first met my next door neighbor, we met as total strangers in our building’s elevator and quickly became friends when we bonded over our dogs. We started walking our dogs together, which is a really easy way to connect because we just got to talk. It was super easy to open up on these walks. Some days we talked about heavy topics like family and relationships. Other days, we just had small talk. She’s actually the one who introduced me to No Stupid Questions. Our love for Angela Duckworth was definitely another point of bonding for us. I guess the only awkward part of our attempt to bond is that my dog is a bit anxious and didn’t immediately bond with her dog, but they’ve since overcome and my dog now tolerates her dog. I consider that attempt to bond a success, and I consider her to be a lifelong friend.
Renee HILL: Hi, my name is Renee. I’m in the Navy, and I move around a bunch, so I meet new people all the time. Y’all talked about how expecting to get close to the person you’re talking to is helpful in actually achieving closeness. I thought it was really interesting, because I find that to be one of my favorite parts about the military. It’s way easier to make meaningful friendships quickly. We all have the expectation that we’ll be friends from the beginning, since our time together is really compressed, especially in really remote places like where I am now. Because the people in the workplace change so quickly, the Navy puts a big emphasis on team building, which has grown into many cool traditions, but is also well known as “mandatory fun,” like a required picnic that you dread but end up meeting your best friends at. So far, I’ve learned that small talk is in fact useful. Most people are bad with names, so you don’t have to be nervous about that. And you really know when you’ve passed the acquaintance mark, when you can all sit at a table and not get too anxious about 30 seconds of silence passing by.
That was Juan Matos, Connie Lee, and Renee Hill. Thanks to them and to everyone who told us about their experiences. And remember, we want to hear your stories about connecting more deeply with someone who you already know and care about. Send a voice memo to NSQ@Freakonomics.com, and you might hear your voice on the show!
Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: Which has more upside: to be the best on the worst team or the worst on the best team?
DUCKWORTH: “Why can’t I be the best on the best team?”
That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.
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No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and The Economics of Everyday Things. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. Lyric Bowditch is our production associate. This episode was mixed by Eleanor Osborne. And we had research help from Daniel Moritz-Rabson. Our theme song was composed by Luis Guerra. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to NSQ@Freakonomics.com. To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Freakonomics.com/NSQ. Thanks for listening!
MAUGHAN: I think that’s a little bit different than all these regular team-building exercises with, like, a trust fall or something where we’ve all been through: “Stand on this thing and lean back!”
- Elaine Aron, clinical research psychologist and author.
- Arthur Aron, professor of social and health psychology at Stony Brook University.
- Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston and visiting professor in management at the University of Texas at Austin.
- Dale Carnegie, 20th-century American writer and lecturer.
- James Gross, professor of psychology at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Psychophysiology Laboratory.
- Danny Kahneman, professor emeritus of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University.
- Harry Reis, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester.
- Marc Schulz, professor of psychology at Bryn Mawr College.
- Emma Templeton, PhD candidate in psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth University.
- Robert Waldinger, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development.
- Thalia Wheatley, professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth University.
- Oprah Winfrey, talk show host, writer, and media proprietor.
- The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness, by Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz (2022).
- “The Increasing Importance of a Best Friend at Work,” by Alok Patel and Stephanie Plowman (Gallup, 2022).
- “Fast Response Times Signal Social Connection in Conversation,” by Emma M. Templeton, Luke J. Chang, Elizabeth A. Reynolds, and Thalia Wheatley (PNAS, 2022).
- “How to Foster Perceived Partner Responsiveness: High-Quality Listening Is Key,” by Guy Itzchakov, Harry T. Reis, and Netta Weinstein (Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2021).
- “Merged Minds: Generalized Shared Reality in Dyadic Relationships,” by Maya Rossignac-Milon, Niall Bolger, Katherine S. Zee, Erica J. Boothby, and E. Tory Higgins (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2021).
- “Toward Understanding Understanding: The Importance of Feeling Understood in Relationships,” by Harry T. Reis, Edward P. Lemay Jr., and Catrin Finkenauer (Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2017).
- “Oprah Says Every Guest Asks Her the Same Question After Their Interviews – But She Was Still Shocked When Beyoncé Asked It,” by Jethro Nededog (Insider, 2017).
- “The Power of Vulnerability,” by Brené Brown (TED, 2010).
- “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings,” by Arthur Aron, Edward Melinat, Elaine N. Aron, Robert Darrin Vallone, and Renee J. Bator (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 1997).
- How to Win Friends & Influence People, by Dale Carnegie (1936).
- Harvard Study of Adult Development.