Sometimes when you meet someone new, whether it’s a potential co-founder or your latest Tinder match, you just feel like you ‘click’ with them. Conversation comes easily, you naturally understand each other, and the whole getting to know you process feels fun and effortless.
It’s an experience we’ve all had, but what causes it, and is there anyway to know for sure that both parties felt as good about the encounter as you think? Helpful new science offers answers.
Science explains what makes you ‘click’ with someone.
Before we get into details of the new research recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it’s worth pointing out why this quirky topic is worth studying. The world, as we all know, runs on relationships. So whether you’re looking for entrepreneurial collaborators, new friends, or a romantic partner, it helps if you have an accurate sense of whether you ‘clicked’ with someone. Gauge wrong and you could face either immediate rejection or painful revelations that you don’t align as well as you thought down the line.
To explore the science of ‘clicking,’ researchers out of Dartmouth recorded 322 conversations between strangers. They then asked the participants to rate their level of connection and timed the gaps between responses during the conversation. A very clear pattern emerged. The quicker the response times during the conversation, the more the two parties reported feeling like they ‘clicked.’
And it wasn’t just the conversational partners themselves who felt speakers were more closely connected when the breaks in speech were shorter. In a follow-on experiment the researchers showed the same clips to outside observers. When they artificially shortened the response times by manipulating the videos, observers rated the conversational partners as being more closely connected.
“On average, there’s about a quarter of a second gap between turns during a conversation,” researcher Thalia Wheatley explained. “When people feel like they can almost finish each other’s sentences, they close that 250-millisecond gap, and that’s when two people are clicking.”
In short, ‘clicking’ with someone seems to basically come down to conversation flowing without long pauses or awkward breaks. This aligns with earlier studies showing that charisma is closely correlated with response times. The faster you are in coming up with the a reply, the more charming you’re likely to be perceived to be.
Putting the findings to use.
That’s probably not a huge shock to anyone who has eyed the exit while desperately trying to figure out what to say next to a less than well-matched conversational partner. We’ve all experienced the awkwardness of bumpy, slow-going conversation. But the researchers behind the study insist having scientific confirmation of the fact that feelings of social connection are closely linked to the rhythm of conversation have practical value.
First, this is scientific validation of our instinct to judge conversations by their pauses. The shorter and less frequent they are, the more likely you are to have clicked with someone. So if after a quick flowing conversation, you conclude you clicked with that job candidate or new colleague, you’re probably right.
“We should be attuned to that for our mental and physical health,” another of the researchers, Emma Templeton, told Discover magazine, discussing response times. “We want to find people that get us. It’s a beautiful thing that we have this signal.”
But Templeton also suggested the study might have a more sci-fi application as well — helping engineers develop AIs that ‘click’ better with humans. “People are craving social connection,” she says in the same article, “Ideally, they can get it from another human. But, there’s probably a space for connecting with robots too.”
If you’re not developing chatbots, file that insight away in your ‘interesting trivia’ mental file. But the insight that ‘clicking’ is a real, measurable phenomenon and that it largely comes down to the quick back and forth rhythm of a conversation is useful every day. Not only can this finding help reassure you that you’re not crazy for feeling you ‘clicked’ with someone, it can also help you steer future conversations towards greater feelings of connection just by picking up the conversational pace.