In this week’s column, Dan Ariely looks at an issue I have often thought about, first impressions.
Being on the quiet side, I often think that I do not make a good first impression. To be honest, I blame it on my quiet side, but in reality, there could be several things about me that lead to leaving a poor first impression.
Some people may be disarmed by my rapier wit, my George Clooney-like appearance, my natural charisma, and my knowledge of double-entry bookkeeping. But tossing all those aside, I’ll assume it is my introverted nature.
Fortunately, Dan offers some research to indicate that while most of us may think we do not make a good first impression, that is usually not be the truth.
Here is the email he received.
This past weekend I attended a wedding. I enjoyed getting to know the people at my table, but I can’t stop worrying about the impression I left on them, and whether I may have come across as boring. I would like to meet up with these people again, but I am hesitant to contact them after this terrible first encounter. What do you think I should do? —Laura
and here is Dan’s response:
On average, we tend to be more likable than we think we are. Yet most people hold very low opinions of themselves, and especially of their conversational abilities. This mismatch between our perceptions of ourselves and others’ opinions of us is known as the “liking gap.”
The liking gap was first demonstrated in 2018. Researchers randomly paired people for 5-minute conversations, after which each was asked to rate how much they liked the other and how much they believed their partner liked them. Overall, participants made better impressions than they thought they had and underestimated how much their partners liked them.
The truth may be that we spend so much time and energy worrying about our own behavior and the impressions we’re giving out that we miss positive signals from others, such as smiles and laughter. It may be useful to remember that your conversation partners are also likely to be worrying about their own behavior and impressions, leaving them little capacity to really pay attention to you. Ask yourself if you remember and care about every little mistake your conversation partner made. Assume that your conversation partner is as generous as you are in judging other people and remembers as few of their small mistakes. Chances are that you are much more likable than you think you are, so go ahead and contact the other guests from the wedding.
I certainly feel that whomever I am speaking with is much more interesting than I am. I also think that person can’t wait to move on from our conversation so that they can speak with somebody more interesting than myself.
But what if that were not the case? What if I am suffering from the liking gap?
Does that mean I have to stay in touch with people I’ve just met?
If that’s the case, then I’ll have to try even harder to be one of the exceptions to the liking gap…