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Why we shouldn’t feel awkward about reaching out to people we’ve lost touch with

Sending an unexpected message or making a phone call can seem daunting if you don’t know how it’s going to be received.

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A sad young woman using mobile phone with bright light screen in the late night at home
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By Danny Halpin via SWNS

Reaching out to others in your social circle after a long time will be more appreciated than you think, new research suggests.

Many people have lost touch with old friends and colleagues, especially after the pandemic moved working habits away from the office.

Sending an unexpected message or making a phone call can seem daunting if you don’t know how it’s going to be received.

But the findings of a new study suggest there’s no reason to be hesitant.

Lead author Dr. Peggy Liu of the University of Pittsburgh said: “People are fundamentally social beings and enjoy connecting with others.

“There is much research showing that maintaining social connections is good for our mental and physical health.

“However, despite the importance and enjoyment of social connection, our research suggests that people significantly underestimate how much others will appreciate being reached out to.”

In one experiment of the study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, some participants were asked to recall the last time they reached out to someone in their social circle “just because” or “just to catch up” via email, text or phone, after a prolonged period of not interacting with them.

The rest were asked to recall a similar situation where someone reached out to them.

Participants were then asked to indicate on a 7-point scale (1=not at all, 7=to a great extent) how much either they or the person they reached out to (depending upon the condition) appreciated, felt grateful, felt thankful or felt pleased by the contact.

People who recalled reaching out thought the gesture they recalled was significantly less appreciated than those who recalled receiving a communication.

In other experiments, participants sent a short note, or a note and a small gift, to someone in their social circle with whom they had not interacted in a while.

(Photo by Cast Of Thousands via Shutterstock)

Similar to the previous experiment, participants who started contact were asked to rate on a 7-point scale the extent to which they thought the recipient would appreciate, feel grateful for, and feel pleased by the contact.

After the notes/gifts were sent, researchers also asked the recipients to rate their appreciation.

Across all experiments, those who initiated the communication significantly underestimated the extent to which recipients would appreciate the act of reaching out.

The researchers also found one interesting variable that affected how much a person appreciated a reach out.

Dr. Liu said: “We found that people receiving the communication placed greater focus than those initiating the communication on the surprise element, and this heightened focus on surprise was associated with higher appreciation.

“We also found that people underestimated others’ appreciation to a greater extent when the communication was more surprising, as opposed to part of a regular communication pattern, or the social ties between the two participants were weak.

“I sometimes pause before reaching out to people from my pre-pandemic social circle for a variety of reasons.

"When that happens, I think about these research findings and remind myself that other people may also want to reach out to me and hesitate for the same reasons.

“I then tell myself that I would appreciate it so much if they reached out to me and that there is no reason to think they would not similarly appreciate my reaching out to them.”

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