Don’t Like to Talk to Strangers? Hello, ‘Liking Gap’

Some of us love talking with strangers, even seeking out opportunities to meet new folks. Others...well, not so much. We may worry before, during, and after the entire conversation about what the other person thinks or hone in on our own quirks, wondering how awkward we seemed or if we said the wrong thing. Those of us who don’t like to talk to strangers might even assume that our new chat partner dislikes us. But a recent study may help us to banish those fears.

Do You Make Better First Impressions Than You Think?

“You never get a second chance to make a good first impression,” humorist and actor Will Rogers once said. The importance of that first impression, though, may add to our stress level during conversations with strangers. As part of that worry, we may think that strangers dislike us based on that (possily awkward) initial conversation. 

But a new study offers good news. Published in Psychological Science, it showed that many of us are wrong in our assumptions about first impressions. Researchers analyzed how strangers felt about one another after their first chat. They discovered that strangers tend to like us more than we assume.

Based on that study, these experts even came up with a name to sum up the difference between our assumptions of how someone fels and the reality of how strangers actually feel about us: Say hello to the “liking gap.”

What Did the ‘Liking Gap’ Study Reveal?

Conducted by psychologists and researchers from Cornell, Harvard, University of Essex, and Yale, the “liking gap” analysis examined five groups of participants. 

The five groups’ conversations produced the following discoveries: 

  • 1. The first situation analyzed students during conversations, including ice-breaker questions, personality scales, and conversation ratings.

Discovery: The students misjudged how their partners felt about them. They assumed the other person had negative first impressions. This “liking gap” was more pronounced for shy individuals. 

  • 2. The second group was paired up to participate in free-ranging conversations.

Discovery: During the entire conversation, the participants believed the other person disliked them. In contrast, they had positive feelings about their partner.

  • 3. The third study matched students with community members to chat for however long they wanted.

Discovery: In addition to the “liking gap,” the researchers found an “enjoyment gap.” They found that whether the chat lasted 2 minutes or 45 minutes, people under-rated the enjoyment level of the other participant. 

  • 4. The fourth group involved the general public in a workshop on “how to talk to strangers.”

Discovery: We typically predict that strangers will feel we are boring. Following that initial conversation, we are even more convinced that the other person feels we aren’t interesting.

  • 5. The final study surveyed first-year dorm students at intervals from fall through May.

Discovery: The participants under-rated how much their roommates liked them at every interval until the last survey. Researchers therefore found that it takes time for the actual dislike to set in. 

How Can We Benefit From the Liking Gap Study?

Those of us who fear talking with strangers may face challenges in letting go of those worries. Remember, they found that most people actually liked talking with new people. By using the lessons of the “liking gap” study, we may alleviate some of those fears: 

  • Listen: Our worries about talking with a stranger may cause us to focus on believing we are boring or too talkative or "too" something else. That self-criticism may derail our perception. By listening and staying attentive to the conversation at hand rather than criticizing ourselves, we may recognize the signs that the other person actually likes us but no matter what, with active listening at least we will be engaged and not drifting off into self criticism.
  • Release: Do you feel so inhibited with a stranger that you don’t express yourself? By releasing our fears, we may feel empowered to share our more authentic selves. 
  • Accept: Accepting and acknowledging our concerns as valid but unhelpful may help us to stay open during conversations with strangers. Our self-acceptance may bridge the liking gap so we can more easily connect with others. 
  • Remember: Strangers don’t judge us as harshly as we rate ourselves. While we think we failed to make a good impression, strangers almost certainly believe that the chat was enjoyable. 

Life gives us many opportunities to interact with new people. School, job interviews, parties, and classes all offer chances to converse with strangers. Understanding the “liking gap” may help us to connect more successfully with people in all those situations if we can remember to give them the benefit of the doubt and trust that they like us fine. As the researchers discovered, strangers typically like us more than we think. 

It’s normal to feel some uncertainty as we meet strangers, but feeling overly insecure about how other people perceive us may affect our chances to develop friendships and succeed at work. Ready to give it a try?

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10/21/2020 9:34:34 PM
Wellness Editor
Written by Wellness Editor
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