When we’re in conversation with someone for the first time—in a meeting, over coffee, at a party or event—we’re taking in everything from facial expressions to the words they use to form an impression. We’re deciding if they’re kind, intelligent, humble, boring, funny, trustworthy. This process feels natural to us and happens immediately.
At the same time, there’s a parallel track running in our brains: How does the person we’re in conversation with perceive us? Do they think we’re kind, intelligent, humble, boring, funny, trustworthy? These “meta-perceptions” are the opposite of natural. And we often get them wrong.
As researchers Adam Mastroianni, Gus Cooney, Erica Boothby and Andrew Reece explain in a recent study called The Liking Gap in Groups and Teams, “People often feel uncertain about what their conversation partners really think of them, which can lead them to underestimate how much they are liked.”
This disconnect—between how people perceive us and how we believe they perceive us—is a phenomenon called the Liking Gap.
Here are a few interesting snippets I pulled from the research:
This is all to say that if you’ve ever walked away from a conversation questioning whether a story you shared was too much, or whether she actually laughed at that joke or was being polite, or whether you possibly botched a presentation and now everyone thinks someone else deserves your job—consider the alternative. What if they liked you? What if they thought the joke was funny and the presentation was fine?
As the researchers write, “If only people knew how positively their teammates actually felt about them, they might communicate better, feel more included on their teams, and be happier overall with their jobs.”
If we can now assume people like us more after these initial interactions than we might have first believed, how would that change how we interact with them moving forward?
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