Mind Matters: Self-Disclosure

About 20 years ago psychologist Arthur Aron developed a set of 36 questions that can help dating individuals fall in love. The questions include: "If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be?" You can find the other questions online.

Recently Australian researchers Julien Pollack and Petr Maous showed that answering the same questions with co-workers helps strengthen work teams.

The questions prompt self-disclosure, which tends to bring individuals closer. Let's look at how that happens.

To start, self-disclosure of interesting information is entertaining. We like individuals who entertain us.

Self-disclosure usually involves telling life stories. We like hearing those because we can learn from them what to do and what not to do.

Talking about our inner thoughts and feelings shows a high level of trust in the other person. In essence, we are treating the other person as a close friend. That treatment leads the other person to feel valued and to want to reciprocate the self-disclosure.

As the other person starts to self-disclose, we feel closer to that person. We have started an upward cycle of disclosure, positive emotions, and feelings of closeness.

For developing close relationships, it is hard to beat self-disclosure. Close relationships help us enjoy life, do well, and ward off loneliness and depression.

There are risks with self-disclosure though: The other individual may disseminate your disclosures or use them to manipulate you. Think about what you want to disclose and to whom. Then jump in.

So what do I want to disclose to you to help you feel closer to me? This question arose recently when I was invited at work to submit in writing a fun fact about myself for a team-building exercise. The idea was that other employees would try to guess which fact went with what person.

I sent in this: "I grew up in an Indiana town. Had a good lookin' mama who never was around. But I grew up tall and I grew up right with them Indiana boys on them Indiana nights. Sorry - ignore that -- I confused myself with a character in a song. My real fun fact: I eat hundreds of peas every morning for breakfast."

By joking initially, I revealed more about myself than any one fact might.

What have you disclosed lately to someone else? How did that go?

John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences, University of New England.