Stop Stressing About First Impressions—You’re Doing Better Than You Think

We hear about the importance of making a good first impression all the time. Whether at a job interview, on a first date, or meeting your partner’s parents for the first time, we tend to be full of dread and anxiety about presenting ourselves to someone new. It makes sense, really; we want to be liked and we want others to see our best qualities rather than focusing on ways we’re deficient or fall short. Still, new research has revealed that we’re worrying for nothing and in fact, we’re doing way better with those first impressions than we think we are.

According to data published in the Association for Psychological Science’s journal Psychological Science, all the time we spend obsessing about what other people must be thinking or feeling about us is a bit of a waste, especially since we’re not very good at it.

As study authors Erica Boothby (a postdoctoral researcher from Cornell University) and Gus Cooney (a postdoctoral researcher from Harvard) explain, “Our research suggests that accurately estimating how much a new conversation partner likes us—even though this a fundamental part of social life and something we have ample practice with—is a much more difficult task than we imagine.”

This “liking gap,” as researchers have coined it, can totally screw up our ability to forge new relationships, which kinda sucks. Researchers studied this gap by pairing up with people they hadn’t met before and allowed them to have a five-minute conversation. After the convo, the participants rated how much they liked their partner compared to how much they believed their partner liked them. Overwhelmingly, most people reported liking their partner more than they thought they were liked in return. Considering everyone said that, our ability to sense how much someone else likes us is obviously skewed.

“The liking gap works very differently. When it comes to social interaction and conversation, people are often hesitant, uncertain about the impression they’re leaving on others, and overly critical of their own performance. In light of people’s vast optimism in other domains, people’s pessimism about their conversations is surprising,” Boothby and Cooney explain.

The takeaway? We need to be a little less critical of ourselves and realize that people tend to like us a lot more than we think they do. And why wouldn’t they? We’re awesome!

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