Category: The Likeability Continuum

We Don’t Like The People We Hurt

Everything about the title of this article sounds wrong doesn’t it? If anything, we should feel neutral about the people we hurt, but behavioral psychologists have proven time and time again that we actually dislike the people we hurt … but why?

Cognitive Dissonance

Psychologists theorize about a concept know as cognitive dissonance. It’s the uncomfortable feeling we get when we hold two conflicting thoughts in our mind at the same time … and it’s a powerful motivator.

Here’s how it works. Let’s assume that you believe that you have amazing will-power. A friend challenges you to loose weight by not eating after 6:00 p.m. for a month, and you agree. But, on the third day of your new diet you ate a meal after 6:00 p.m. doing exactly what you told yourself you wouldn’t do. This is where cognitive dissonance kicks in.

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When you hold two opposing thoughts in your mind at the same time you will look for one of two ways to release the tension. You will:

Change your behavior or …
I’m not going to eat after 6:00 p.m. anymore. I’m stronger than this.

Justify your behavior
I should not have agreed to this in the first place. It’s probably dangerous not to eat after 6:00 p.m.

But what does this have to do with not liking the people we hurt?

Most of us believe that we are good, caring people. We also believe that we would never hurt another human being. That’s our self-perception.

The Accident

Then, one day on our way to work we accidentally bump into a stranger and spill a full cup of coffee on their new dress. It just so happens that they’re on their way to an important job interview and they did not respond to your apology or your offer to help.

Here are the facts.

  1. You accidentally spilled coffee on a woman.
  2. You ruined her dress.
  3. You possibly had a very big negative impact on her interview.
  4. She did not accept your apology or your offer to have her dress cleaned.
  5. She did not give you the opportunity to make things right.

There is no doubt that you hurt this person in many different ways. You embarrassed her, you ruined her dress and you possibly destroyed her opportunity of getting a job. You didn’t do any of these things on purpose, but you hurt her just the same. It was an accident.

Under these same circumstances the vast majority of people (when not give the opportunity to make things right) would have found a way to justify the accident in and blamed the victim. It happens all the time. Their self-talk sounds something like this.

  1. I wouldn’t have spilled the coffee on her if she was paying attention.
  2. She shouldn’t have been standing so close to me.
  3. She was probably looking for a reason not to get this job and she wanted something like this to happen to her.

This may sound ridiculous, but people really do think like this … and so do you.

Dig Deeper

Let’s take a closer look at the woman in this situation. Did she make you feel good or bad about yourself? (Remember, the key to likability is helping people feel good about themselves.) In this example, by not acknowledging your apology or giving you the opportunity to make things right, she made you feel bad about yourself … and that’s where the problem began.

Had she accepted your apology and allowed you to have her dress cleaned, you would have felt much better about yourself and therefor much better about her. You would have seen it as an accident and you would have felt better about yourself for making things right.

What? You don’t agree with me?

1065245_handshakeYou may be reading this and feel that the woman was justified in how she handled herself. So, for the sake or argument, let’s assume that you were the person going on an interview when a stranger accidentally spilled coffee on you. Let’s also assume that (without either of you knowing it) you were on your way to interview with the man who was responsible for spilling coffee on your. Do you think he would have been more or less likely to hire you if you accepted his apology and gave him the opportunity to make things right? I think you know the answer.

If you truly want to be a likable person by helping people feel good about themselves, you will do everything in your power to make sure you do just that, even when you’ve been hurt. And the way to do that is to:

  1. Not be hurt so easily.
  2. Give people the opportunity to apologize and make things right.
  3. Don’t let people walk away from you thinking they hurt you. They will like you less and try to make the situation your fault.

Now that you’re aware of this phenomenon, I’ll bet you see it play out almost every day.

If you have a similar story to share, please post it in the comment section below.

The Likeability Continuum

Likeability is not a black and white issue. I don’t think it’s possible to dislike everything about someone any more than it’s possible to like everything about someone. All relationships live on a likeability continuum and they change every day.

It’s also important to note that likeability can not exist in a vacuum. You are neither likable or unlikable by yourself. Likeability can only be defined in the mind of the person thinking about you. And what they think about you changes on a regular basis. Let me explain.

There are many factors that fashion likeability. When you add all of those factors together you get a pretty good idea of just how much you like someone. It’s important to note that this person may have a completely different relationship, (and therefore a completely different likeability factor) with someone else. You see this happen all the time.

Jane and Joe go out for dinner and meet a very flirtatious female waitress. Joe thinks she’s great and Jane has a very different opinion of her. Hmmmm! But why?

Think of someone you know. It could be anyone from a close friend to an acquaintance. Rate them on a scale of 0-10 for each likability factor and total your score.

  1. My first impression of this person was (0-10) ___
  2. This person likes me (0-10) ___
  3. This person is like me (0-10) ___
  4. This person is fun to be with (0-10) ___
  5. This person inspires me (0-10) ___
  6. This is an attractive person (0-10) ___
  7. I am with this person frequently (0-10) ___
  8. I associate this person with good feelings (0-10) ___
  9. I’ve helped this person (0-10) ___
  10. This person has something I admire (0-10) ___
  11. This person is courteous to others (0-10) ___
  12. What you see is what you get (0-10) ___

Now, add your points. If you have a score of 60 or more, you generally like this person. The higher your score, the more you like them. The lower your score, the less you like them. (This doesn’t mean that you dislike them, it just means that you don’t necessarily like them.)

Notice how your score concerning this person can change from day to day. You may have a conversation on Monday about a movie you both liked and then a different conversation on Tuesday about your opposing views on politics. Their score for question three could have gone from an eight to a zero.

Take-Away
Here are the three things I want you to take away from this exercise.

Likeability is comprised of many factors.
Likeability is dynamic. It’s always changing.
You have control over most … if not all of the likeability factors.

Exercise
If you had a score of more than 60 points, stop what you’re doing right now and tell this person that you like them. They will like you even more for doing so. Well, what are you waiting for?

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