• Want Your Students to Seem More Likeable? Research Says: Teach Them Follow-up Questions


(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.) ,*

This could be one of the most useful researched-backed techniques that your students can learn.  If they want to make a positive impression on others during a conversation, they should ask a lot of questions, especially a lot of follow-up questions.

Karen Huang and her research team at the Harvard Business School analyzed more than 300 online and face-to-face conversations between people getting to know each other.  In one study, participants engaged in a 15-minute conversation with a randomly assigned person.  Some of the participants were told to ask many questions (at least nine) and others were told to ask few questions (less than four).  After the conversations ended, the participants told the researchers how much they liked their conversation partner.  The results showed that the people who asked more follow-up questions were considered more likeable.

A second study and activity for students continues below.

A second study looked at the effects of asking follow-up questions at a speed-dating event involving 300 participants.  The researchers analyzed the number of questions and follow-up questions the participants asked and found that the people who asked follow-up questions were more likely to be asked for a second date.

It was pointed out that aim is to have a dialog, not just a police-style interrogation.  This means listening to someone’s answer and asking a follow-up question.

After reviewing the studies, NPR’s social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam concluded, “This is a learnable skill, and it’s a skill that is useful to learn.”

Indeed, it is.   The attached set of exercises is designed to not only help student develop this technique, but also to let them experience the positive effects it can have on them.  Briefly, there are three steps:

Step 1: Students are introduced to the technique by working individually with model conversations.

Step 2: In a Student A / Student B format, pairs practice the technique in a structured exercise.

Step 3: Together, the pair write 5-10 questions about any topics they want.

Step 4: Each student is matched up with a different partner.  They read their questions and ask follow-ups.

This process has been used with students from over 40 countries and has always had the same results: the volume of voices rises and the smiling and laughing increase as students move through the steps.

Feel free to print and try these out with your students.* Follow up questions from CS             

Also, see

 • Conversation magic: Two most important techniques. (Part 2)

• Stimulating Small-Group Discussion Activity 4: People Will Like You More If You Ask Follow-up Questions

David Kehe

*About the free-download materials. During my 40 years of teaching ESL, I have had many colleagues who were very generous with their time, advice and materials. These downloads are my way of paying it forward.  

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