When I originally received the assignment to write this paper, I was really interested to try out the Language Style Matching website. Bowers' article on shared talking styles, including the findings of a study by the University of Pittsburgh, seemed a little too good to be true. While friends, romantic partners, and all kinds of interpersonal relationships depend on communication to be healthy and developing trust with self-disclosure over time, the idea seemed a little simplistic to me.
When I entered a recent text conversation I had with a friend on the website, I was curious to see what our score would be. We don't know each other that well, but I have a little bit of a crush on this person and want to see where it might lead. Our Language Style Matching score was 0.67, which the site categorized as below average. This was in keeping with two people who don't know each other that well. The score also related that text conversations tend to rate lower than conversations in which people are paying attention to each other more. I have to admit that I was distracted during this text conversation, and one of our texts crossed as if we had spoken at the same time.
The score page also requested that I not take the feedback from LSM too seriously, because it was still in the experimental phase. For me, it still seems unconvincing that the way people talk to each other can predict the success or failure of their potential relationship. James Pennebaker, one of the authors of the study, even said, "An interesting irony is that two people who truly hate one another will often exhibit a high amount of language-style matching. Two people locked in a bitter fight tend to talk, or yell, in similar ways." This suggests that it's not necessarily love or lasting romance that's being predicted by shared styles of interpersonal communication, but perhaps similarity in personality, intelligence, culture, education, or simply choices of vocabulary.
Another reason it seems unlikely that language style matching can accurately or reliably predict the success of failure of a relationship is that it fails to incorporate several important non-verbal cues we all pick up while communicating. For one thing, LMS (on the website, at least) does not provide elements such as timbre, pitch or inflection, each of which can give us emotional cues behind someone's spoken words. Also missing is the speed at which a person's words are spoken, the tempo and rhythm of their words, and even the little noises and nonverbal vocalizations present in most conversations. LMS also doesn't take into account pauses and silences in a conversation, which can indicate that someone's thinking, or reticent to move forward.
Additional nonverbal cues LMS misses out on include eye movements, which show us whether a person's engaged and looking at us, distracted or even contemptuous of us. If we can't see their facial expressions, we miss out on emotions they may be feeling, but not necessarily saying. Finally, LMS leaves out body clues we can all pick up when we're talking to someone, such as the way they hold their bodies – slumped versus upright, for example, or ramrod straight versus a relaxed posture. Lastly, LMS doesn't take into account our hand gestures, which many of us use to underscore a point we're making, or even to move closer to someone we like.
Ultimately, I believe that language style matching is not a comprehensive way to predict the quality of interpersonal relationships. This is primarily because LMS fails to include common nonverbal cues that we're all trained to read in other people while conversing. This can't come across in an algorithm or computer program on a website and therefore leaves LMS a little short when it comes to accurately predicting whether my friend and I will ever be more than friends.
Bower, B. (2010, November). Shared Talking Styles Herald New and Lasting Romance In dating game, conversationally aligned players often pair up. Science News.
West, R. (2010, January). Understanding Interpersonal Communication: Making Choices in Changing Times. Independence, KY: Cenage Learning.