Good communication skills are important for us social beings. We talk to each other for information, mutual support, personal affirmation, and to share laughter and good feelings. A positive conversation can affect the first impression we make on a potential new friend or on an interviewer at a job fair. And yes, first impressions do count. The verbal and nonverbal behaviors with which we present ourselves create a “primacy effect”. This basically means that the overall first impression we make -including our personal appearance, body language, level of information we reveal, etc.– has a more powerful and lasting influence over what someone new thinks of us, than is even gleaned from future encounters. Added to that is something called the “halo effect”; that is, if we make a positive first impression in one area, we are more likely to be thought of in a positive way in general.
When we were kids, we never worried about first impressions or even knew what they were. Conversation was natural. Spontaneous. Our desire to connect was fueled by an innate curiosity and genuine interest. When someone new moved into the neighborhood, like the family from Poland who moved into the multi- family house next door with a daughter my age, there was no pre-planning on how to interact. We just happened to see each other playing in our respective backyards one day, and from across the fence we gave a casual wave and greeting before going back to doing whatever we were doing. No big deal. No losing sleep ruminating over whether the other liked us. No second-guessing ourselves as to whether our greeting should have been longer, shorter, more in-depth or was it too premature. Gradually our conversations got longer, eventually leading to exchanged phone numbers so we could continue our exchange after supper when it was too dark to play outside. On summer nights when our parents wouldn’t let us tie up the landlines, we just opened our third-floor windows and shouted across the alleyway to each other until we were told shut the widows and stop disturbing the neighbors!
Unfortunately, as adults, many of us become less confident at the prospect of entering into a conversation with someone new for the first time. We worry about making a good first impression, and often go away believing that the other person liked us less than they actually did like us. Apparently, we don’t always have an accurate assessment of the impression we make on a new acquaintance. Studies show that when people are asked to rate how much others liked them after an interaction, then asked the other party how much the original person was liked there is a significant gap. In other words, most people like us more than we think they do! Behavioral scientists call it the “liking gap”. Some attribute this to our feeling unsure of ourselves, awkward, or self-conscious. “Did I reveal too much about myself too soon, and seemed like a nutcase?” “Did I talk too much about my ex while on our first coffee date?” “Should I have really rambled on about my political views?” “Did I come off as desperate by trying too hard to be liked?”
Sometimes conversational spontaneity is stilted due to fear of being negatively judged. Sometimes we hold back as a psychological defense or staying on our guard while trying to get a read on the other person’s reaction to us. Perhaps we fear coming off as boring or being rejected if we let our guard down, and we freeze or shy away altogether from conversations that can be important for our lives. Yet we can’t afford to freeze up during a job interview nor shy away from initiating conversations when we move into a new neighborhood and need to find connection and friendships.
If the goal is to expand your network of rich, meaningful relationships as in a “dolce vita”, then upbeat conversations with new people can enrich your life immensely. Here are a few ideas that might be useful:
How to close the liking gap
- Acquire the Skills. If you lack confidence in your communication skills, you’re not alone. Maybe you’ve spent most hours of your day behind a computer or phone screen by profession or by choice. When you know what to do the anxiety will fade. Skills like active listening, making eye contact, and picking up on verbal cues will give you more confidence in your own value as someone who is interesting and likeable.
- Keep Learning, and you will always have something interesting to say. Our lifelong journey of personal development comes about when we are open to growing as a result of new knowledge and experiences. Read books. Be open to hearing both sides of an argument. Attend lectures on topics you want to learn more about.
- Believe in Yourself. Look back to times when you had effortless and interesting conversations with someone you just met, at the supermarket, over a cup of coffee on a blind date, or when a stranger needed help and you jumped right in without a trace of self-doubt.
- Be Courteous But Be Yourself. Don’t modify your behaviors and words according to what you think others will approve of or want to hear. Be authentic, be more concerned with being interestED in the other person—and above all, be kind.
- Names are Important. Do what Dale Carnegie in his classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People” recommended. Remember a new acquaintance’s name and use it in conversation. This makes them feel important and can increase their positive evaluation of you.
- Good Conversation Openers include giving a sincere compliment, asking an opinion about a new restaurant, movie, etc;, or commenting on something non-controversial such as yes—the weather.
- Be Aware of Your Voice. Voice coach Roger Love believes that creating the sound of confidence in your voice can banish shyness and you will actually become more confident. Monotone is boring. Making the voice more melodic attracts interest. Remove the verbal place-holders (um, like, if-you-will, etc.) and the uptalk (ending imperative sentences as a question). Also, monitor your volume so you are neither shouting nor speaking so softly it appears as a lack of self-confidence.
- Remind Yourself of the Research on the Liking Gap, where we tend to think the other person does not like us as much as they actually do upon first impression. Relax, because chances are good that they DO like you. They really, really do (and so do I) 🙂
For Further Reading:
Society for Personality and Social Psychology. “Bridging the ‘liking-gap,’ researchers discuss awkwardness of conversations.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 February 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190208115331.htm>.
Jiamin Li 1,2 Zhenchao Zhong1,2 Lei Mo1,2. Negative Deviation Effect in Interpersonal Communication: Why People Underestimate the Positivity of Impression They Left on Others Psychology Research and Behavior Management 2020:13 733–745
Erica J. Boothby1, Gus Cooney2, Gillian M. Sandstrom3, and Margaret S. Clark4 (2018)The Liking Gap in Conversations: Do People Like Us More Than We Think? Psychological Science Vol. 29(11) 1742–1756
©Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D. 2023
2 thoughts on “How to Conquer the “Liking-Gap” (And Why You Should)”
The Hidden Brain podcast recently discuss the same topic, and it has really changed how I interact with people.
Sounds like an interesting podcast! It’s amazing how a boost of confidence can change our lives, isn’t it?
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