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Call me. Really.
When was the last time you called to touch base with a friend for no reason at all? Or you sent a text with no mission in mind other than to let someone know you were thinking of them? Or you shot off a quick email, just to say hi?
You might guess those random contacts would be unwelcome interruptions in their busy day. Who has time to respond to a quick hello, a remark about the weather, or a waving emoji?
Turns out if that’s your assumption, you’re mistaken. (And I was right there with you.)
Most people welcome those interactions, and in fact they’d like to have more of them, according to a NewYork Times article about the power of the casual check-in.
And yet, most of us hold back from making those contacts.
That’s not a reporter’s best guess, either. It’s based on research by actual social scientists who did a serious study. Straight from their synopsis: “We document a robust underestimation of how much other people appreciate being reached out to.”
A robust underestimation, huh?
Here’s the gist of it.
University of Pittsburgh Business Professor Peggy Liu and her colleagues did more than a dozen experiments involving nearly 6,000 people. The goal was to figure out how good we are at guessing how people feel when they hear from us.
Some participants reached out to someone they considered a friend. Others got in touch with a person they thought of as a weaker tie. Friendly, but not close.
The people who made the call or sent the text had to rate how that other person would feel about hearing from them. Appreciative, happy, pleased? Or not very much.
Then, of course, researchers also had to check with those on the receiving end. How much did they appreciate the contact?
The folks who initiated the contact significantly underestimated how much it would be appreciated.
The contacts that were the most surprising, say, from people who hadn’t been in touch lately, were also the most powerful.
Dr. Liu and her colleagues conclude that people are fundamentally social beings and enjoy connecting with others.
And yet, we often hold back from taking the initiative, don’t we?
What’s up with that?
Here’s an explanation from a psychology professor, at the University of Maryland. Marisa Franco says many of us feel weird about reaching out, even to our friends, because of what’s called the “liking gap.”
Yes, that’s a real thing. And it’s just what it sounds like: we tend to underestimate how well-liked we really are.
After a social interaction, we replay things we said, or they said, or both. And we often wonder if the other person liked us, even if they were smiling and nodding and laughing in a way that suggests they were enjoying the conversation.
I’m so relieved to find out I’m not the only one.
In the interest of research, I put all this to the test.
I’ve been working to increase my business networking anyway, and this week I added social connections to my pick-up-the-phone plan.
Yes, I noticed my own trepidation. What if they were too busy? What if they didn’t really want to hear from me? They weren’t exactly falling all over themselves to get in touch with me, after all. What if they don’t actually like me?
Apparently, most of them do.
I called or texted eleven people. A few business buddies, a couple of close friends, my brother, and my landscaper. (The last one was a simple thank-you message; his guys had done some much-appreciated work here.)
It’s safe to say almost everyone was happy to hear from me. I made two lunch dates, one with a woman I’ve known since high school, and have never socialized with.
A speaker friend responded with gratitude for my encouragement about her gig. Another said she was so glad I called, and she was definitely ready for a conversation.
Okay, there was that one business connection. She heard me speak years ago and hired me to speak a few years after that. We’ve only been in sporadic touch since then. And she must be good with that—she didn’t return my call.
On the other hand, I made dinner plans with a couple from the neighborhood. We’ve known each other for years, we’ve been at gatherings at each other’s homes, they’re people I like. And in all this time, we’ve never gone out as a foursome. Until Saturday night.
It was delightful! And it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t made that call.
Next steps for me … and for you.
I was buoyed by the responses I got to my calls and texts. It’s past time for a post-pandemic reboot, and I’m going to make regular contacts a part of it.
And of course, I need to focus not just on friends and relatives. There’s a business case to be made for staying in touch.
And to tell you the truth, that’s where I’ve really fallen down on the job, fearing that my contact would be unwelcome, that they have too much on their plate, that they’ll think I’m a pest.
I’m out to make those calls and send those emails, with the mindset that people are mostly happy to hear from me.
I’m inviting you to join me in this effort. And by all means, let me know how it goes.