According to new findings in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, we tend to overestimate how much people appreciate being reached out to. This is especially true when people are unexpectedly expecting to be contacted.
Peggy J. Liu, the study author at the University of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business, felt like a lot of individuals were losing touch with each other more and more these days. We wondered why this might be. One explanation might be that people overlook how much others appreciate their reach-outs.
Liu and her colleagues conducted a series of surveys with over 5,900 participants, including three field investigations in which people reached out to their actual acquaintances. They sought to know how accurate people are at estimating how much others appreciate a meeting.
Participants were randomly assigned to recall from their personal history either a time when they reached out to someone else, or a time when someone else reached out to them. Participants were then asked to indicate how much they or the person they reached out to (depending on the condition) appreciated, appreciated, felt grateful, or appreciated the interaction.
Participants wrote a brief note, or a note and a small gift, to someone in their social circle who had not communicated with them in a while, and then assessed their gratitude.
Researchers noted that those who initiated the contact consistently underestimated how much recipients would appreciate the interaction. Additionally, this effect remained strong across both brief message and small gift reach-outs, as well as among undergraduate and online adult samples.
Liu explained that many people are hesitant to reconnect with people they have lost touch with in their lives (e.g., former colleagues, old friends, old neighbors), and they may be misplaced. Others are likely to appreciate being reached out to more people than they imagine.
Liu and her coworkers discovered evidence that the surprise of being reached out to played a significant role. Appreciation tended to be greater when the reach-out was more unexpected.
Liu said in a press release that people receiving the message placed a greater emphasis on the surprise element than those initiating it. People underestimated others' appreciation to a greater extent when the communication was more unexpected, as opposed to part of a regular communication pattern.
Nevertheless, the study, as with all research, includes several limitations.
Liu explained that we focused on contacting individuals with a history of positive interactions. Indeed, we often lose touch with other people simply because of life circumstances (e.g., graduation, changing jobs, becoming a parent, the pandemic, etc.). Our findings may differ in the context of having fallen out with someone.
A personal tip for me is to think critically about these research findings and remind myself that other people may want to reach out to me and hesitate for the same reasons, Liu said. I then tell myself that I would appreciate it if an old acquaintance reached out to me and that there is no reason to think they would not appreciate my doing so.
Peggy J. Liu, SoYon Rim, Lauren Min, and Kate E. Min. coauthored the study The Surprise of Reaching Out: Appreciated More Than We Think.