Recognizing the impact you already have
From an article on Behavioral Scientist
If you were a teacher, it would be hard to tell if you’re having any impact at all. You'd put heart and soul into a lesson, only to stare out at a sea of unreadable faces, most of whom will disappear out the door the second class is over. Until one day, you would get an email from a former student detailing the influence you had on their life, and, like a bolt of lightning, you would experience a moment of teary-eyed recognition of the impact your words and actions can have on others.
Most of us, however, don’t regularly get this sort of insight into how we influence others. We typically only gain insight into a very tiny sliver of our true impact. In other words, a teacher may get one email for every hundred students they’ve taught. And because we rarely get insight into our influence over others, we may chronically underestimate it. After all, if hardly anyone tells you how good your compliment made them feel, or that they were smiling all day about that joke you told them, how would you know you had any impact at all?
Curious about this phenomenon, two psychologists thought up an experiment: What if we asked people before they engaged in an ordinary interaction with another person what they expected their impact on the other person to be, and then immediately asked the other person how much they were actually impacted? Would people underestimate the influence they have on others in these sorts of commonplace, everyday interactions?
They recruited people to participate in our study and told them that it essentially consisted of a single task: they were to leave the lab and go outside, approach a random stranger (of the same gender), and compliment them. They even told them what to compliment the stranger on: they were simply to say, “Hey, I like your shirt.”
Before they left the lab, they asked the participants to guess how good this compliment would make the other person feel. Then they gave them an envelope to hand to the other person right after complimenting them. Inside the envelope was a survey asking the other person how good the compliment made them feel and a second envelope for the approached stranger to put their completed survey in and seal so participants couldn’t see what the other person had said (which could have made strangers less honest in their responses).
What they found in this study has changed the way they interact with strangers: if they have something nice to say to someone, they make the effort to say it. Because they now know their seemingly trivial, awkwardly phrased compliment will make the other person feel significantly happier than they think it will.
The strangers participants approached and complimented in the study said they enjoyed the interaction and that the compliment made them feel more “flattered” and “good” than the participants expected it would when they imagined giving it.
Despite the fact that everyone is busy observing everyone else, we tend to think we are somehow more invisible than the people around us. So, people underestimate how good a simple compliment will make others feel, and overestimate how annoying it is to be stopped by a random stranger who wants to express their admiration.
We also tend to believe that others are watching us less, listening to us less, and generally paying less attention to us than they actually are - an “invisibility cloak illusion” - the invisibility we often feel as we go about our daily lives. For example, walking through the park in our sunglasses, all while observing the people around us yet feeling unobserved ourselves, as if we’re wearing an invisibility cloak.
To test this hypothesis, researchers randomly assigned students exiting a dining hall to different conditions.
In one condition, the students were asked how much they found themselves noticing or observing the people around them in the dining hall (i.e., their behaviour, mannerisms, and appearance), how curious they had been about the people around them, and the extent to which they had wondered what was going on inside the heads of the people around them.
Students assigned to another condition were asked how much they thought the other people in the dining hall were noticing or observing them (their behaviour, mannerisms, and appearance), were curious about them, and wondered what was going in their heads.
Participants’ ratings of how much they found themselves observing other people were more than 67% higher than participants’ ratings of how much they thought other people were observing them. Despite the fact that everyone is busy observing everyone else, we tend to think we are somehow more invisible than the people around us.
This research dispels the misperception that in order to get someone to pay attention to you, you have to wave your hands around and shout. Ad executives may need to pull out all the stops in order to grab people’s attention, but you don’t. You already have it. You are a person, not an ad or a tweet, and people are wired to notice other people. More than that, they are wired to wonder what other people are thinking, and to adjust their own thoughts and behaviours accordingly. What this means is that you are quietly and subtly influencing the people around you all the time - without even trying, and often without realizing it.
This revelation can be both empowering and sobering. On the one hand, it means that having influence is in many ways easier and less extraordinary than we imagine. While the times you’ve tried and failed to influence someone may loom large, there are undoubtedly far more examples of times you’ve influenced someone without trying at all - and without ever seeing the influence you had. On the other hand, this also means there have likely been times you influenced someone unintentionally, in ways you may even wish you hadn’t.
Read the full article here.
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