Between home life, work, chores, and (if you’re lucky) sleep, there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything we’d like. This is especially true when it comes to maintaining friendships, old and new.
Schedules never seem to align; something always distracts you from reaching out when you think of it—it’s a lot, and it can conjure up a lot of guilt. Days can slip into weeks and months in the blink of an eye. And before you know it, years have passed.
Suddenly, the idea of reaching out to someone you once spoke to every day seems awkward. Will they even want to hear from me? Have they secretly resented me for not reaching out earlier? Maybe they’ve moved on.
Before you go down that anxious rabbit hole, consider a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The research found that not only should you reach out, but the other person will likely appreciate it far more than you think.
Should I Call?
Dr. Peggy Liu of the University of Pittsburgh led the study, titled “The Surprise of Reaching Out: Appreciated More Than You Think.” Liu and her team of researchers conducted 13 experiments with 5,900 participants. The participants included men and women ranging from young to mature adults.
First, researchers measured how much people assumed friends or acquaintances would appreciate them reaching out. Then, they measured how much those on the receiving end actually appreciated it. The team compared the data to determine whether the first group’s assumptions were correct.
Across the 13 experiments, the researchers used various methods of connection and strengths of relationships. Some participants called, while others texted or sent a small gift. The study included both weak (acquaintances) and strong (lifelong friends) relationships.
Small Moments Make A Big Difference
The study found that across all types of friendships and methods of communication, those reaching out significantly underestimated how much those on the receiving end would appreciate the gesture. And that underestimation is often what leaves us swirling around in those anxious, “what if I shouldn’t?” rabbit holes.
One potential reason for this cognitive dissonance is that those contemplating initiating contact don’t appreciate the power of surprise. The researchers outlined previous data that found surprise intensifies emotions, both good and bad.
In this study, they found that when the relationship had been positive, even if they hadn’t spoken in a long time, the person answering the phone or receiving the small gift had a positive response that was made even more positive by the surprise of hearing from an old friend or relative.
But those reaching out are usually more focused on their own nervous feelings about how their gesture will be received. The researchers write that if we better understood the positive effect of surprise, we’d be less hesitant to reach out.
The Liking Gap
Unsurprising to anyone who suffers from social anxiety, we often navigate relationships through an invisible—yet emotionally tangible—phenomenon called the “liking gap.”
A “liking gap” refers to the idea that we often underestimate how much someone else likes us. “[Individuals] often focus on their own internal monologues, which can be self-critical and negative after social interactions. However, others do not perceive them with such a critical or negative lens,” the researchers wrote.
This phenomenon prevents us from appreciating that others like and value our presence more than we think. And this goes beyond friendships. Our negative internal monologues can even lead us to underestimate the power of small acts of kindness, which other studies have proven to have enormous positive impacts.
So, that feeling you have that surely that old friend wouldn’t care if they heard from you or not? Science says you’re wrong. Not only is it not true, but the friend you’re considering reaching out to is likely feeling the same way.
Reach Out And Touch Someone
It turns out the old Bell commercial had it right: “Wherever you are, you’re never too far, they’re waiting to share your day! Reach out and touch someone.” The people in your life (whether past or present) want to hear from you more than you think.
“For those treading back into the social milieu with caution and trepidation, feeling woefully out of practice and unsure, our work provides robust evidence and an encouraging green light to go ahead and surprise someone by reaching out,” the study concluded. “Such reach-outs are likely to be appreciated more than one thinks.”
Even a quick text or Facebook message can make an impact. And with the new year just around the corner, what better time to celebrate both silver and gold friends than right now?