Come Closer: How to Get Someone to Open Up to You

Do you have someone in your life that is taking his or her sweet time warming up to you?   Whether a new colleague at work or your new mother-in-law, most of us can relate to the frustration of attempting to bond with people who insist on keeping their distance.  Thankfully, there are methods of crossing the divide.

“Do Not Disturb”

We encounter private people in all aspects of our lives. Some are tough nuts to crack overall; others are private only about certain topics.  Maybe after several months of dating, your new love interest is still reluctant to share anything about his or her last relationship.  Or a new co-worker consistently rebuffs your efforts at small talk regarding past employment.  

Some awkward encounters result from mismatched communication styles; others stem from prioritizing personal privacy.  Either way, failed attempts at establishing friendship or intimacy can leave you frustrated, and wondering if you are the problem.  

Assuming your attempts to bond are situationally appropriate, research indicates that there are ways to connect.  

Getting to Know You: Prompting Disclosure Through Rapport

Rapport research discusses conversational techniques that may be useful in social settings.  Karen Bell et al. (2016) explored the importance of rapport building when conducing standardized interviews.[i] They emphasized the need to use conversational techniques during survey research, noting that unscripted conversation can impact survey results.  

Interestingly, they note that although rapport can prompt respondents to be more open and honest, it can also motivate ingratiation attempts, such as answering questions in a manner designed to present oneself in the best light possible.  

Allison Abbe and Susan E. Brandon, investigating the role of rapport in investigative interviews (2014),[ii] highlight the importance of interviewer personality and the power of empathy in building rapport.  They observe that empathy is tied to mimicry, because empathetic people tend to engage in nonverbal mimicry.

They go on, however, to explain that in some cases, perspective taking might be even more important.  Noting that perspective taking is related to empathy, they describe it as including the added dimension of being able to assume the cognitive states of other people.  While acknowledging that empathy builds rapport, they state that perspective taking may be even more helpful in smoothing interpersonal interactions.  

Topics Matter: The Impact of Age and Culture

Other research shows that race, as well as age similarity or discrepancy, impacts the way an interviewee responds to an interviewer, at least in a research setting.  Jessica Vasquez-Tokos in “If I can offer you some advice” (2017) personally conducted a series of interviews to test the impact of certain demographic factors.[iii]  

Vasquez-Tokos is a young adult Latina heterosexual woman. She found that when both parties were of a similar race, the in-group advantage opened up access to discussing issues of race and ethnicity.  

She also discovered some interesting dynamics with respect to age.  As a female interviewer, she found that women within 10 years of her age were influenced by similarity, and were communicative.  With similar aged men, however, sexuality dynamics inhibited answers surrounding the topic of sexual intimacy.  Older men, on the other hand, behaved in a more paternalistic fashion, and offered unsolicited advice.  

The Significance of Disclosure is in the Eyes of the Speaker

In some cases, it is possible that the people we consider to be private may actually believe they have opened up to us.  This is because the significance of personal information shared may be in the eyes of the speaker. 

Research by Emily Pronin et al. (2008) reveals that individuals perceive their disclosures as more personally revealing than outside observers do.[iv] What kind of disclosures?  Apparently, this difference in perspective relates to disclosing values, not making “off the cuff” remarks.

Pronin et al. note, however, that attempts to establish intimacy through disclosing values might not be effective, due in part to the disagreement of what constitutes a meaningful self-disclosure.   Apparently, even when people feel they have really opened up to another person, others may perceive that little has been revealed.  

Respecting Privacy

Obviously, we always respect the privacy of others.  Even in a world of social media-fueled transparency, not everyone posts and blogs their way through the day.

If and when appropriate, however, it is helpful to know how to utilize methods that impact our ability to click, and to connect.  As a general rule, moving slowly and respectfully as we get to know the people around us is the best way to prompt reciprocity and build trust.


[i]Karen Bell, Eldin Fahmy, and David Gordon, ”Quantitative conversations: the importance of developing rapport in standardized interviewing,” Qual Quant 50, 2016, 193-212.

[ii]Allison Abbe and Susan E. Brandon, “Building and maintaining rapport in investigative interviews,” Police Practice and Research 15, no. 3, 2014, 207-220.

[iii]Jessica Vasquez‐Tokos, “’If I can offer you some advice’: Rapport and data collection in interviews between adults of different ages,” Symbolic Interaction [serial online] ISSN: 0195-6086, 2017.

[iv]Emily Pronin, John J. Fleming, and Mary Steffel, ”Value Revelations: Disclosure Is in the Eye of the Beholder,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 95, no. 4, 2008, 795-809.

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