We all know that one person who can walk into a stranger’s party and make friends with everyone, from the host to their third-cousin’s boyfriend. Is it their good looks? Their scintillating wit? As Science of Us reports, this elusive likability factor could be chalked up to their inquisitive small-talk style, judging by a new paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Harvard Business School researchers conducted a series of studies to see how question-asking affects someone’s likability [PDF]. Participants engaged in a two-way anonymous instant message conversation, in which one person was randomly assigned to ask either a low (at most four) or a high (at least nine) number of questions to get to know the other person. Afterwards, subjects reported their feelings about both the conversation and their partner, and how they thought the person felt about them following their 15-minute exchange.

Sure enough, researchers found that conversation partners preferred high question-askers to low question-askers. People who ask more questions “are perceived as higher in responsiveness, an interpersonal construct that captures listening, understanding, validation, and care,” they theorized.

It might seem like a no-brainer to politely ask a new acquaintance about themselves—but as the researchers pointed out, multiple studies show that most people prefer to discuss their own selves during a conversation. And in this particular study, neutral observers who read transcripts of the experiment's conversations didn’t show any preferences for high question askers versus low question askers. This suggests that people may not be aware that question-asking is a key way to make a positive first impression. So next time you're at a soiree, turn toward the person next to you at the buffet table and ask them if they like the dip. You may be surprised at how quickly you two become friends.

[h/t Science of Us]