You are going to have a conversation with a new acquaintance or someone whom our AI algorithm has matched you with. Maybe that seems exciting and you can’t wait to get to know someone who could end up being a great friend. But maybe the idea of this conversation makes you uncomfortable because it seems like it will be forced and awkward. If that’s how you feel, we are here to help. The first thing to remember is that they are in the same boat as you. Most people would like to have more good friends in their lives and most people are nervous about the process of going from being an acquaintance to a friend. They want this to go well too but are probably nervous just like you. Remember, that if you matched through our AI algorithm, you and the other person are likely to get along. You just have to both give yourselves a chance to get to know each other. Talking about how unusual it is to meet someone this way is probably a good way to break the ice since you are both thinking it anyway.
To help with your first conversation, Resonance has developed the COLOR Model of Connecting through Conversation. COLOR stands for “curiosity”, “openness”, “listening”, “openness”, and “responsiveness” (there’s a reason openness is there twice). These are five ways of getting your mind set to have the best conversation you can and each of these is backed by scientific research. If you can get yourself to use the COLOR Model (or even just a few parts of it), you will definitely increase the odds of really connecting with someone in a meaningful way. After the model is presented below, we then go on to give you some ideas of what to talk about and also what to do next after you’ve had a good conversation and want to hang out again. Here is the model.
Curiosity – Be curious. Multiple studies have shown that people who are more curious and ask more questions during a conversation are liked more by the person they are speaking with (Kashdan, 2010; Huang 2017). Even asking sensitive questions to a stranger is appreciated more than we think (Hart, 2021). We often assume these questions will make the other person uncomfortable, but in fact they usually does not, and the other person often appreciates questions that allow them to share non-trivial aspects of themselves.
Openness - In addition to being curious about the person you are speaking with, you should also be open and share about yourself. While small talk certainly has its place, sharing more important things about your hopes and fears and experiences is more important. An analysis of 94 research studies, found that those who disclose more in conversations are liked more by their conversation partner and also like their partner more (Collins & Miller, 1994). Part of why disclosure leads to liking is because while we are disclosing, the person listening discovers points of similarity between the two of you (Sprecher, 2012) and feeling similar is an important part of connecting. Two important things to know about disclosure and connecting with someone. First, it works better when it is balanced through turn taking (i.e. you take turns disclosing without one person dominating the conversation; Sprecher 2013). Second, deeper conversations are better at creating friends than shallow conversations (Kardas et al., 2021). People often think their conversation partner won’t be interested in this more personal information and it will make the conversation awkward. In fact, partners like hearing this information and it makes them feel closer to the person who shared. You might be nervous to share deeper things about yourself, but trust the science – it's a key part of making closer connections.
Listening - When you ask questions, you are speaking. When you are disclosing, you are speaking. What about the rest of the time? It turns out that listening well (or what is known scientifically as high quality listening; Weinstein et al., 2022) is a key active part of turning acquaintances into friends. High quality listening involves giving your undivided attention (e.g. no checking your cellphone), demonstrating comprehension, and being non-judgmental. How do you demonstrate comprehension while listening? Backchanneling. When someone else is speaking to you and you nod your head or say ‘uh-huh’ that is an efficient way to let the other person know that you are paying attention and are following what they are saying. Backchanneling is so important that several groups that are trying to build artificial intelligence agents that can talk to you are focused on teaching their AI how to get backchanneling right because without it, conversations feel very wrong. You don’t need to backchannel every second, but speaking to someone who isn’t backchanneling is unnerving.
Openness (2) - This is a totally different kind of openness. The first openness refers to sharing information about yourself. The second kind of openness is about saying ‘yes’ to things the other person suggests – it's about being open to new things. Most people struggle to step outside their comfort zone, but when the other person suggests doing something you might not usually do (e.g. eating a different cuisine, going to an improv show, volunteering to build a house), try to have a ‘yes’ mindset. Friendships are built through shared experiences and doing something new is a great way to find something you have in common that you didn’t know you had in common.
The personality trait of agreeableness is generally associated with this ‘yes’ mentality. A number of studies have now found that people who score higher on agreeableness put others at ease during conversations, are liked more, and are chosen more as friends. As Harris and Vazire (2016) put it “Agreeableness has an overwhelmingly positive effect on friendships”. You might be thinking, “I’d love to be more agreeable and have more of a ‘yes’ mindset but I am who I am. Personality is fixed.” It turns out that not only can you change an aspect of your personality, but agreeableness is the aspect of personality that can be changed the most (Steiger et al., 2021). It is not as simple as snapping your fingers, but it can be done with the right intentions and support.
Responsiveness - Let’s say you have a good conversation with an acquaintance and then they text you and say ‘Want to get lunch next week?’ Don’t ignore the text or wait three days to respond. When you hear through the grapevine that your new friend got a promotion, reach out and congratulate them. Be responsive and proactive - it shows you care and are making an effort. Showing that you are responsive and reliable is a key part of helping another person see that you are a trustworthy friend, not just in terms of keeping secrets, but in terms of showing up and being there. Personality psychologists call this tendency to be responsive and proactive “conscientiousness”. People higher in conscientiousness have better friendships (Wilson, Harris, & Vazire, 2015) and just as with agreeableness, under the right circumstances, people can effectively become more conscientious (Steiger et al., 2021).
So now you have the right mindset for having a great conversation that can help turn an acquaintance into a friend. You’ll show you are curious about them, share about yourself, listen actively, say yes to new things, and be responsive and proactive. But what should you talk about? And what comes after the conversation?
We’ve already touched on what to talk about. It might feel awkward at first, but steering away from small talk towards deeper topics is the best way to do this. You might want to do it gradually, but ultimately friendships grow when each person reveals more of who they really are and can see the same in the other person. There is a research task that was created 25 years ago by the psychologist Art Aron to help people transition from small talk to deep conversation. The task is called “Fast Friends” (Aron et al., 1997) and we’ve put a couple of versions of this task here - this should take you about 45 minutes. If you use Fast Friends to guide your conversation, we are confident you will be on your way to getting more connected.
No single conversation is going to make you and another person best friends overnight. In fact, you probably need to spend at least 20 hours together before a person is more likely to be seen as a friend than an acquaintance (Hall, 2019). So be proactive and think of things you could do together and invite the other person. And if someone else is inviting you, say ‘yes’. Go for a hike. Watch a movie and talk about it after. Get a beer. Go to a concert. If it’s something you think you would enjoy at all, you will probably enjoy it more together. Shared experiences are amplified compared with doing things alone (Boothby, Clark, & Bargh, 2014) and they help solidify your connection. Even if the thing you do is lousy, making fun of it together or complaining about it together can strengthen your friendship (Haggerty, 2015). Both of you thinking a movie was contrived or boring helps you each recognize how similarly you see things.
Last but not least, try to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. If they don’t respond to an email or if they say no to something you suggest doing, try not to jump to a negative conclusion about the person or what the person thinks of you. Not all acquaintances can become good friends, but giving them the benefit of the doubt will help more of them to become good friends. Remember, all people are imperfect, but if you are meeting someone through Resonance it means that both of you really want more high quality connections in your life.