Empowering People through Behavioral Science
Practical Tools for Purpose Purpose & Prosocial Behavior

The Secret to Building Rapport: What Extroverts Do That Introverts Don’t

By Brittany Christian


Whether you’re a self proclaimed introvert, extrovert or some unique smattering of the two, chances are you still value relationships and deep social connection above almost anything else in your life. For those of us who take solace in the peace and quiet of isolation, we might find ourselves perplexed by the ease with which our more extroverted pals seem to connect with others. Is this ability the consequence of a more joyful demeanor, or might extroverts exude particular behaviors, perhaps even unknowingly, when trying to make friends that help them to establish rapport?

Recent research conducted by Korrina Duffy and Tanya Chartrand at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business identifies a simple behavior that facilitates the formation of friendships. Researchers conducted two experiments to explicate the role of mimicry (subtly and generally subconsciously copying another’s non-verbal behavior) in the extrovert’s advantage for building rapport. In both experiments participants were introduced to an alleged participant (who was actually an experimenter) that they were told they were being partnered with to perform the experiment. Unbeknown to the participant, the confederate intentionally performed behaviors that could be easily mimicked such as playing with their hair or circling their foot. Importantly, before the task started some participants were told that overall performance improved when the partners got along well, other participants were not told anything about the importance of getting along. This subtle manipulation was employed to change participants’ goals in regards to building rapport with their partner (the unidentified experimenter). It was hypothesized that extroverts would display more mimicking behaviors than introverts, but only when they had a goal to build rapport.

Image ©: Italolemus 2004

Results of the two studies confirmed that indeed, the more extroverted a participant was, the more likely they were to display mimicking behaviors, but only if they had been told that getting along with their partner would improve task performance. In other words, when highly motivated to play well with others extroverts naturally exhibited mimicry behaviors. But, is this form of mirroring actually responsible for increased rapport? According to the researchers of the study, the answer is yes. For those participants who were told task performance improved when partners got along, extroversion scores predicted mimicry (the more extroverted a person was, the more they mimicked their alleged partner) and mimicry predicted rapport. While this study did not address whether or not intentional mimicry could have the same effects, it does provide evidence to suggest that when motivated to get along with others, extroverts more naturally engage in nonverbal behaviors that lead to increased rapport.

While the ability to bond in social settings may come more naturally to some than to others, the authors note that previously established differences in how happy extroverts are compared to introverts are more likely a consequence of increased rapport rather than a cause. In other words, extroverts don’t have better social interactions because they are happier, but rather they are happier because they have better interactions.  Like many of the other articles covered on the New Paths to Purpose website, the current work highlights the key role of social connection and rapport in establishing a joyful and purpose-filled life. 


Brittany Christian is a Research Professional (post-doctoral fellow) in the NPP Network, based at the Center for Decision Research at Chicago Booth.

Associated Project Theme: Practical Tools for Purpose Purpose & Prosocial Behavior

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