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Conversational Disclosure: Influence, Rewards, Danger & Guidelines

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  • 00:00 Conversational Disclosure
  • 00:30 Guidelines and Influences
  • 2:40 Danger and Rewards
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the concept of self-disclosure in communication and discover how it works and why it's important. Then test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Conversational Disclosure

Hi, how are you? Okay, enough about you, let's talk about me. If there's one thing that most of us are pretty good at, it's talking about ourselves. Actually, that's a good thing.

The process of revealing information about ourselves is called self-disclosure and it's an important part of communication. Self-disclosure allows us to share our feelings, develop intimate relationships, and connect with other people. So keep on talking about yourself; you've got nothing to be ashamed of!

Guidelines and Influences

We constantly communicate information about ourselves. Maybe we flat-out tell people where we're from. Maybe we wear a baseball cap with our favorite sports team, or put a bumper sticker on our car with our political views, or share a meme on social media. Communication is constant and we are almost always conveying some form of information about ourselves. What matters is why we're doing it, and how we intend for our messages to be understood.

So, let's start with why we self-disclose during communication. Self-disclosure expresses a willingness to communicate. After all, most relationships, from your best friends to those co-workers you try to be cordial with at work, do require some level of communication. Self-disclosure is a good place to start.

One of the leading ideas about self-disclosure is called the social penetration theory, which states that types of self-disclosure characterize the level of relationships. Basically, think of an onion as a relationship. Self-disclosure allows us to start using communication to develop a relationship. However, at first, this communication is very superficial. We talk about our likes and dislikes, favorite sports teams, yadda yadda. We call this superficial communication small talk. Some relationships never get past this level.

However, the more personal your self-disclosure gets, the more intimate the relationship becomes. To make a relationship more intimate, self-disclosure must increase in both breadth and depth, or range of topics and level of personal details. After we move on past the superficial layer of small talk, we reach an intimate relationship. Keep developing even further and you wind up with a very intimate relationship, the sort shared by spouses and best friends. So, it's like cutting an onion. You peel back more layers, going deeper, and eventually, make yourself cry.

Danger and Rewards

To develop intimacy, both people have to equally self-disclose and must do so at an appropriate rate. We've all met someone who tells us way too many personal details about their lives, way too soon. Too much self-disclosure during a superficial relationship can make the conversation feel unbalanced or one-sided. One person may feel pressured to share more than they want to, or may feel like they're not getting an opportunity to share their feelings at all, or the first person just won't shut up.

On the other hand, if someone chooses not to self-disclose enough, they may prevent a relationship from forming. So, self-disclosure does come with some risks. Understanding how to listen and how to judge a relationship is just as important as knowing when to talk.

So, why self-disclose at all? What's the real payoff here? Well, like we've talked about, self-disclosure is an important step in developing meaningful relationships with friends, romantic partners, or family members. As humans, we are social creatures and we are physically, emotionally, and psychologically healthier when we have other people in our lives.

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