The Liking Gap: Why You Think You're Not Likable
You probably like to meet new people. However, during these experiences, a shadow might often arise in your mind, an existential worry. What first impression did you give to them? Did they like you? These doubts can lead to an exhausting phenomenon.
Suddenly, you find yourself mentally reviewing the conversation you had. In fact, you scrutinize it, word for word, like a KGB agent looking for clues. Only you’re looking for flaws, the kinds that mean you might’ve given the wrong impression. While you may only dedicate a few minutes to this task, some people fall into an endless loop that can last for hours.
Most of us would like to be more likable and enjoy the kind of magnetic charisma that immediately captivates others. Indeed, as humans, we need to be liked by others because, in the game of social chess, our connections are important. Consequently, giving an image of trust and closeness is a basic principle in our socio-emotional fabric.
However, this basic principle of sociability often entails suffering more than one cognitive distortion. This can cause anguish.
As a rule, we tend to underestimate the impressions we make on others.
The liking gap: a collective experience
William James was one of the first psychologists to study our need for social connection. He was a pioneer in the scientific study of psychological phenomena and focused his attention on perception. In fact, he claimed that babies, in addition to needing food and protection, also yearn to have contact with the affectionate gaze of their parents.
It’s also through your eyes that you, as an adult, tend to assess if someone likes you or if you generate some distrust in them. When you meet someone new, you analyze in numerous ways if they like you or disapprove of you. Yet, most interestingly, you tend to underestimate the imprint you leave on others.
In other words, you have a cognitive bias that tells you you screwed up by saying this or that, that you made a stupid comment, or that they must think you’re so boring. Most of us have fallen into these kinds of mental traps at some time or another. However, a problem arises when this perception becomes almost obsessive and leads to social anxiety.
The importance of the judgment of others
What others think about us matters to us. Even more so when we’re young. The liking gap theory claims that the anxiety to be liked and the tendency to underestimate ourselves can ruin our relationships. Obviously, you may not reach these extremes, but your doubts and the habit of replaying your conversations can create a somewhat uncomfortable position.
You’d probably love to be able to ask the person you’ve just met what they think about you. But, when it comes to social relationships, we all tend to grope our way through using trial-and-error tests and navigating as best we can. This can cause anxiety. But, as humans, we’re programmed to connect, create bonds, and join social groups.
Liking is synonymous with integration into the group, something that we all pursue when we’re teenagers yet not so much in adulthood. Indeed, at later ages, we often only maintain a few friendships.
You’re not always right: you’re liked more than you think
A study conducted by the universities of Yale, Cornell, Harvard (USA), and Essex (UK), analyzed the phenomenon of the liking gap. The researchers discovered that most of us have really critical internal dialogues. We feed ourselves with negative assumptions about the impact we generate on the people we’ve just met.
This uncertainty is marked by not yet knowing what values and what type of personalities those figures with whom we’ve spoken have. Those who we want to like at all costs. However, the research demonstrated that, as a rule, we tend to like each other more than we think, and such biased ideas are completely unfounded.
So, why do you have such a Machiavellian internal judge? Why do you torture yourself by analyzing everything others say? Why do you punish yourself for what you did or didn’t say? The truth is that doubting your positive impact on others encourages you to try to improve your social skills.
Of course, ideally, you shouldn’t fall prey to the extreme of constantly and obsessively questioning yourself.
Our concern for liking others arises between the ages of seven and nine, when integration with our peers becomes a priority.
How to stop doubting yourself when you meet someone new
The liking gap becomes a really important mental schema during adolescence. Yet, as the years pass and you reach maturity, you’re less concerned with the impression you make on someone you’ve just met. That’s because you feel more self-confident and self-confidence underpins a large part of your daily interactions.
But, what can you do if that insecure little voice persists in your mental universe? What strategies can you apply if you keep replaying your conversations and are afraid of giving a bad impression to the new people who come into your life?
Doubts are common: others think the same as you
“Do I seem unpleasant to them?” “Will they think I talk too much or too little?” “Will they think I’m a boring and uninteresting person?” You might spend hours thinking these kinds of thoughts. But, you need to understand that everyone experiences self-doubts when they’ve just met someone.
Indeed, the vast majority of us need others to like us. Therefore, it’s highly likely that, while you’re thinking about that first conversation, the other person is doing exactly the same.
Like yourself and the right people will like you
The liking gap can be tortuous if you give it too much power. It can even make you drift into the abyss of social anxiety. This makes you assume that you’ll always make a fool of yourself and that others are always judging you. But, few realities can be more liberating than being yourself and letting the right people into your life.
Self-confidence and perceiving yourself as a precious being with the most interesting virtues and values will allow you to walk through your life with greater aplomb. It’s neither necessary nor healthy to like everyone. You simply need to connect with the kinds of figures who are in harmony with your values and personality. Nothing more.
Undoubtedly, the fabric of social relationships can be torturous at times. Moreover, it’s a constant learning curve. You must ensure you always have your well-calibrated compass of self-love and self-esteem with you. Then, you’ll be able to make the best possible connections.It might interest you...
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Boothby, E.J., Cooney, G., , Sandstrom, G.M., & Clarke, M.S. (2018) The Liking Gap in Conversations: Do people like us more than we think? Psychological Science, 29(11), 1742-1756
- Mastroianni, A.M., Cooney, G., Boothby, E.J. & Reece, A.G. (2021) The liking gap in groups and teams. Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 162, 109-122.