People Like You More Than You Think!

A new study shows that we stay on others’ minds longer and in more positive terms than we would guess.

Posted in , Dec 9, 2021

Having a positive conversation

Recently I wrote an email thanking a colleague for something she had said in passing that really stuck with me. Her comment helped me stay strong and focused for a hard-for-me thing I had to do later that day. Not only did I benefit from her wisdom, but I also connected it warmly with her and wrote to pay back (forward?) that appreciation.

My experience of remembering something from a conversation and thinking positively about the person who said it isn’t at all unusual, according to a new study by social psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University.

The researchers say that we spend about half our waking lives in conversation. Most of us spend time thinking about our conversations after they have wrapped up, whether before bed or hours or even days after we spoke. But while we do this ourselves, the study showed most people underestimate how much our conversation partners think about us after our chats. They call this assumption that they are mulling over the talk while their partner has forgotten all about it “The Thought Gap.”

The researchers also identified a “Liking Gap,” which is the perception that if our conversation partners think about us at all, they might skew negative in their assessments of our tone, knowledge, humor and other markers of likeability. The study found this to be inaccurate, with most people thinking more positively about conversation partners after interactions. The authors wrote, “People systematically underestimated how much their partner liked them and enjoyed their company.” 

These findings suggest a striking, collective insecurity—and an invitation to revisit the ways we think about the impact we have on people. Knowing about this is part of why I was inspired to write a quick note thanking my colleague, because if we don’t tell each other how much meaning we’ve taken from our conversations, how will we ever know? 

So today, think about telling someone they’ve been on your mind in a positive way since a recent conversation. And if that’s too much for you, take a gentle reminder from me, spoken in the closest tone I can muster to Mister Rogers—your words mean a lot, and people both notice and like you just the way you are.

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