Gus Cooney, a social psychologist at Harvard University, and Erica Boothby, a postdoctoral psychology researcher at Cornell University, co-researched why people wonder and worry about what their conversation partners think of them. They found that after a conversation, many of us systematically underestimate how much our conversation partners liked them and enjoyed their company – an illusion that they named the liking gap. Despite this seemingly negative finding, their research concluded that after people have conversations, they are liked more than they know.
So, good news, especially for anyone like me who totally identifies with this feeling of inadequacy that at times borders on imposter syndrome status.
It seems there’s a reason we do this – in short, we’re harder on ourselves than we are on new acquaintances. And after a conversation, we look back on everything we said, mentally correcting what we felt was wrong, and remembering instead times when we felt we’d been funnier, kinder or more eloquent. However, we don’t have the same mental capacity to reflect on someone we’ve just met, so are prone to take them at face value and be much more charitable.
The positive? While underselling ourselves socially can lead to sadness and anxiety, even causing us to avoid having personal interactions in the future, Cooney and Boothby suggest that simply knowing this about ourselves is a great place to start:
“We always have this post-mortem with ourselves. That little voice in your head turns on, and you start thinking about your conversation. Be suspicious of this voice and its accuracy.”