5 ways to get to know someone new on a deeper level, according to psychology

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Our relationships with others define us.

Who we’re close to, who we care about, and even who we’re estranged from all speak volumes about who we are as people. 

Our social relationships are so important that for most of us, they’re the main focus of our lives.

Research also shows that having strong (real) social networks is beneficial to our health in an incredible number of ways. These connections actually help to protect us from the ravages of diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.

And we know that they’re great for our psychological well-being as well.

With all these positive attributes, the question that jumps out is how can you strengthen and deepen your social relationships? How can you create connections that last through thick and thin, richer or poorer, and hopefully keep you from sickness and improve your health?

This is a good time to turn to the experts to find out how to build robust rather than superficial bonds with others, especially when we want to form them quickly.

So here are five ways to get to know someone new on a deeper level, according to psychology, that you can use to make your own relationships better and more meaningful.

1) Reveal intimate personal information about yourself

It’s doubtful that this will surprise anyone, but one of the best ways to get to know someone on a deeper level is to let them know more about you.

Increasing the depth of a social relationship is called “social penetration” by psychologists. Despite that unfortunate name, this term represents how far you feel that you have let that person into your life. Of course, it also reflects how far you’ve penetrated into theirs as well.

Social penetration usually happens through either shared experiences (which I’d love to recommend here but probably shouldn’t be forced) or ever-increasing levels of intimate contact.

Hold on – that’s not a euphemism for sex, at least not in this context!

Instead, this means revealing more and more of your true, deep self to another person rather than just being superficial.

In a study looking at adolescents, researchers actually scanned their brains in an MRI machine to find out what was really going on when they revealed personal details to other people. 

The subjects were more reluctant to reveal more intimate information than superficial information. At the same time, they also showed greater use of the parts of their brains that control emotional regulation and social cognition when they gave more personal details. 

This suggests that while it’s more work, revealing intimate information, the kind we normally keep to ourselves, helps build stronger connections with others.

And guess what?

When you reveal more about yourself and feel closer to the other person, they’ll be far more inclined to open right back up to you.

2) Build trust

If you want to feel closer to someone and for them to feel closer to you, trust is something you simply can’t do without.

Learning who to trust is something that we all do throughout our lives, though perhaps the most important time we learn is during adolescence. This is the time when we really get our heads around who we can trust and how to behave toward people based on their trustworthiness.

The sad fact is that when we have repeated experiences of our trust being broken, we begin to naturally trust others less. While this may protect us from injury, it can also put up a barrier between us and other people.

This is a problem.

As we already saw, getting to know someone new on a deeper level requires sharing more than superficial personal information with them. But how can you do that if you don’t trust people?

Even though you’ve most certainly been burned, if you want to be able to build a deeper relationship with someone you’re going to have to take a risk. After all, they’re not the one who betrayed your trust in the past, so just because somebody else did doesn’t mean everyone will.

Obviously, you should still be safe and smart about just how far you’ll trust new people, but at least give them a bit of the benefit of the doubt. Your relationship will get deeper, quicker, if you do.

3) Take their experiences on board

How do you measure the depth of a connection with another person? Is there a way to know how close a relationship is?

One group of researchers set out to create a way to measure the closeness of a relationship through what they call the “Inclusion of the Other in the Self Scale”. This simple tool can be used to evaluate just how close people feel to others or how deeply they know them.

According to this research, intimacy or social penetration is something we all feel and are pretty good at judging. Just think about that colleague you’ve worked with and shared friendly coffee chat with for years but never met outside of work.

Compare that with someone you met just last week but are dying to spend time with again.

The difference is in how much you feel you overlap with that person or how much you let each other into your worlds.

We can gain a lot by allowing this overlap like helping us learn about new things through the other person’s experiences and gaining depth to our relationship. But you have to be able to integrate the other person’s experiences with your own.

That’s the secret.

While this might be easy with someone you feel a lot of similarity to, you’ll definitely struggle to relate to someone you feel you have less in common with. But the trick is to try. You can both drill down to find commonality and also open your mind to the other person’s perspective.

Both of these methods will help you relate better to a new person’s experiences and get to know them on a deeper level.

4) Put in the time

When you meet someone new, you can have a very normal experience, or sparks can really fly.

Those sparks might be romantic or entirely platonic in nature – sometimes, we just really connect with someone else very quickly.

However, for the most part, it takes time to build a deeper relationship.

Some researchers went out of their way to actually measure how long it takes to get to different depths of friendship. 

According to their research, if you only put a low amount of time into a social relationship, like less than ten hours, you’ll just be acquaintances or friends of friends. After 30 hours, people become casual friends, and it takes 50 hours to become actual friends. Becoming good friends takes over 140 hours, and best friends not less than 300 hours. 

It’s clear from these numbers that you need to put in actual time to get closer to people. Remember, though, that these numbers are averages and some people can use other techniques or just luck to make their connections deeper in a shorter period of time.

But in general, building a connection takes time.

5) Put in the effort

The same research also looked at the behaviors that seem to increase the depth of social connections.  

In another study, researchers looked at which activities would make people form deeper connections in the same length of time. They found some interesting answers.

For one thing, they discovered that the amount of time people spent talking to each other didn’t have any real effect on deepening their connection. Unless, that is, they were putting in real effort in their discussions.

When people converse with the intent to really get to know each other and build a casual social relationship into a friendship, things happen faster. Catching up, checking in, joking around together, and having meaningful conversations all made people become closer faster.

Small talk did the opposite, actually preventing people from getting closer.

The other thing that researchers found was that people who participate in activities together also deepened their relationships faster. Participants who shared time together while doing leisure activities got closer faster.

So, making the effort to talk to a new person on a less superficial level and engaging in activities together can help you form a deep connection faster.

Building connections with new people

We’ve just seen five concrete ways to get to know someone new on a deeper level, according to psychology.

By opening up about yourself, allowing yourself to trust them, connecting with their experiences, and putting in the time and effort to get closer, your connections with others can get deeper.

This won’t happen overnight, but by taking these ideas on board, you can at least learn to get to know new people on a deeper level in a shorter length of time. And in a tough world where you can use all the friends you can get, this is a pretty darned important skill to have!

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