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A recent paper in Psychological Science uncovers a liking gap.
The researchers found that “following interactions, people systematically underestimated how much their conversation partners liked them and enjoyed their company“.
- They continue: “We observed the liking gap as strangers got acquainted in the laboratory, as first-year college students got to know their dorm mates, and as formerly unacquainted members of the general public got to know each other during a personal development workshop.”
This is a convenient finding. It must have implications for the workplace, right?
It made me wonder why the gap exists. Here’s a take from Emma Young at BPS Research Digest:
- “This might be adaptive in a way because a bias toward reflecting on our conversational mistakes might prompt us to perform better next time. Strangers, on the other hand, are judging us according a different metric – they have no idea of the performance we’re aiming for, and so no clue when we fall short of that target – making them less critical.”
She continues with this interesting bit:
- “And they probably didn’t have high expectations at the outset. People’s predictions about how rewarding it will be to talk to someone new are, as the researchers write, often ‘pretty dismal… So whereas speakers are thinking that they have failed to live up to their ideal, listeners are thinking that it could have been much worse, and this different standard of comparison for oneself and for others may well be one reason that people underestimate how much their conversation partners enjoy their company.'”
Reading Ms. Young’s report I noticed the following reference to one of the studies in the paper:
- “… workshops for entrepreneurs and members of the British public on ‘how to talk to strangers’ …”
What a great idea!
It reminds me of running for local office a few years ago.
During the campaign, I spent a ton of time attending events. I began to really enjoy campaigning, in part because of a growing comfort talking to strangers.
Toward the end of the race, I remember feeling confident walking into any room anywhere in our county. It had something to do with people imagining me as an elected official, sure, but it was also due to my improved social skills. And I could tell I was improving because people were responding differently — mainly with more laughter and growing crowds.
I found that the key to a good conversation was a good start immediately upon arriving at an event.
I came up with three ways to start a good conversation:
- Find something in common that’s not controversial. Local government, like road construction. Local commerce, like sweet corn is in season. Local sports, like the Steelers are winning. There’s a reason we talk about the weather so often. Duh.
- Ask an open-ended question. What’s up? How’s everything? How’s your day going? The recipient can take this in any direction. (Sometimes this bombed.)
- Tell a story. This was the revelation. Far-and-away it became the most effective way to kick off a good conversation. I actually made a rule for myself: arrive at every event with a story. One time I was on my way to an event and realized I had no story. As I arrived at a four-way stop, I was wracking my brain for a story while waving the other driver to go in front of me. Meanwhile, she was waving me to go, before I know it we’re both starting and stopping, and there was my story: “It took us five minutes to get through that four-way stop.”
A big lesson I learned was this: my preferred conversation pattern is not most people’s.
I tend to prefer a call-and-response pattern. I ask. Then you answer. Then I listen. Then I ask. Then you answer. Then I listen, and so on. Then we switch. This is what I do naturally.
Most people prefer an I-talk-you-talk pattern. I say something. That reminds you of something. That reminds me of something, and so on. This is why the tell-a-story tactic worked so well. It fit this pattern.
Anyway, it occurred to me after the campaign that people could probably improve their conversation skills, and workshops would be a great forum.
End of digression.
Here’s what came to mind for me when I was reading about the liking gap. I’ve come across people who overestimate how much people like talking to them. And I would never want to be that unaware. Maybe that explains why we underestimate how much people enjoy our company?
What are your thoughts? Any experience with this liking gap? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.