wellness

The "Liking Gap" explains why you leave social interactions convinced everyone hates you.

Have you ever jumped into the car after seeing a few friends and thought to yourself; "that... was not my best work".

Maybe you started telling a story only to be reminded that you’d already told it. Or you made a joke that didn’t quite land. Or you talked too much and didn’t even congratulate Sarah on her engagement even though that was the whole reason for the dinner. You might even go far enough to imagine that the rest of the group are on their way home texting about what an awful friend you are and "Did you notice she DIDN'T even CONGRATULATE me on my ENGAGEMENT."


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The good news is, psychologists have a term for what you're experiencing and it's the 'Liking Gap'. And according to the experts, your friends probably aren't bitching about you via text message right now. 

In fact, according to the 'Liking Gap' theory, they're much more likely to be ruminating on all the stupid and inappropriate stuff they said, and how they absolutely should not have had that third glass of wine. 

Better yet, it turns out that we tend to underestimate how much people like us after a social interaction (thank... f**k). 

As a 2018 study explains it, the Liking Gap exists in part because we don’t get to leave a social interaction and ask "so how did I do?" And if you did do that it would be... weird. It's difficult if not impossible to get real time feedback on how likeable we are, so we’re left in the hell that is our negative and hypercritical mind, which tells us we’re a cringey mess.

With new people, we’re also aware that there’s a lot we don’t know about them, from their values to their sense of humour. This means we’re taking a gamble with whatever we say, and the uncertainty of how they might interpret what we said makes us deeply uncomfortable.  

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What we forget, however, is that when we meet new people, their expectations of us are relatively low. Contrastingly, our expectations of ourselves and how fun and interesting we ought to be, are ridiculously high. While we might fall short of our own expectations, we far exceeded theirs. 

Simply, just about all of us walk away from a perfectly normal, pleasant interaction, and second guess how we behaved. Psychologists have found that even when the other party gives us positive signals, including smiling, hand gestures and rapport, we're too distracted by self criticism to even notice them. 

Some small talk tips for the festive season... Post continues below. 

Of course, it makes psychological and evolutionary sense for us to be hyperaware of ourselves in new social situations. We rely on that self-critical voice to stop us from saying things that will lead to rejection. Our preoccupation with how we come across probably means we're not psychopaths, which is good news.

But it's interesting that in just about every other facet of our lives, we overestimate our abilities. From IQ, to how good a driver we are, to our competence at our jobs, generally speaking, we think we're pretty great. 

That's why we're so confused as to why everyone hates us. 

The 'Spotlight Effect' also goes some way in explaining why we're so sure everyone thinks we're annoying. 

We are, inherently, self-absorbed. We're convinced that when we walk into a room, everyone is looking at us and making judgements, when in reality they're not. 

The 'Illusion of Transparency' is another tendency we have to overestimate the degree to which people can read our minds. If we're feeling awkward or flat or nervous, we assume the other person can tell, when in reality they probably can't. 

In short? No one - and I mean no one - is thinking about you as much as you think they are. 

They are far more preoccupied thinking about themselves. 

 Oh.

And other people like us way more than we think they do. 

Remind yourself of that next time you can't sleep because you're being haunted by a weird thing you said in 2008. 

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