Tell Me More! Engagement through Self-Disclosure

Do you want more engaged customers? Clients? Employees? Team members?

One effective method is to get them talking about themselves!

Recent research has confirmed what all great conversationalists already know: people like to talk about themselves.

Talking about oneself, which is 30-40% of what most people talk about (and a whopping 80% of posts to social media sites), activates areas of the brain associated with pleasure and is so intrinsically rewarding that people are willing to forgo monetary rewards for talking about others or talking about facts so that they can talk about themselves. People like to self-disclose and “get naked,” conversationally.

If you can get people talking about themselves, they will be more engaged.  People are always engaged when they do something that brings them pleasure.

Here are basic steps to encouraging self-disclosure and increasing engagement:

1. Provide a safe, non-threatening environment.  This might mean getting away from the office or away from certain people.  This also means talking without time-pressure.  If someone has a deadline approaching, they go into survival mode and are less willing to self-disclose.

2. Commit to listening more than talking, generally.  

3. Climb the self-disclosure ladder by self-disclosing a little bit about yourself.  Sharing a little bit about yourself can encourage the other person to share about themselves.

For example, in talking with people lower on the org chart, open up about some of your failures to show that you aren’t perfect and don’t expect others to be perfect.  The more your self-disclosure can make you seem similar to the person you are talking with, the more likely is it that they will in turn self-disclose.

3. Use open body language.  Smile warmly and then keep a pleasant, interested expression when the other person talks.  Lean in a little. Nod to let them see you “get” what they are saying.

4. Entice with conversation that encourages people to talk:

  • Ask open-ended questions (questions that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no.”)
  • Use phrases that prompt people to self-disclose (Tell me about . . .)
  • Keep it simple!  Don’t be too complicated in your word choices or sentence structure.  Complexity leads to confusion.  Confusion can lead to reduced willingness to take risks.  And, as much as we all like it, self-disclosure can be risky
  • Be a reflective listener.  Don’t just listen, but respond to let others know that you heard them by repeating, summarizing and asking clarifying questions.  “So, what I think you mean is . . .”  Also, listen for keywords that you can repeat to move the conversation forward.


John:  I’m not sure I’m qualified to lead this project

Tim:  You don’t think you’re qualified?

John:  Well, I don’t think I have the technical background that is needed.

Tim:  Tell me what kind of technical background you think is needed.

While, you don’t want to get uncomfortably personal, if you climb the ladder to increasing self-disclosure, not only will it actually be pleasurable, but it will engage.

Have you found other ways to encourage self-disclosure?


About Diane Windingland
I speak for organizations that want their people to have better, more profitable conversations.

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