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Nervous about meeting new colleagues? This US study tells you how to tackle ‘liking gap’

The 'liking gap' is one where we systematically underestimate how much a new person likes us. There are three tips to overcome the anxiety.

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Nervous about meeting new colleagues when starting a new job, or heading back to the office after working from home?

Welcome to the ‘liking gap’ – it’s where we systematically underestimate how much a new person or colleague likes us and enjoyed their first conversation with us.

In a work context, researchers from the universities of Harvard and Pennsylvania have found that where the liking gap exists in group conversations and persists thereafter, it may have a significant impact on organizations – how relationships form, how teams perform, and how employees feel about their job and their workplace.

How the ‘liking gap’ impacts the workplace

The study built on a 2018 research paper which examined the liking gap between two individuals who had just met. This time, the project focused on whether the gap also exists among groups and particularly in the workplace.

It found that the ‘liking’ gap is widest after an initial conversation among colleagues or friends, but starts to shrink as people know each other longer. If we’re confident in how we’re perceived, we might be likelier to initiate plans with a new group of friends or raise our hands for a new opportunity at work, the study found.

All three scenarios (groups of three, groups of engineering students and work colleagues) found participants liked their co-workers more than they thought their co-workers liked them, and these perceptions were strongly related to a range of important interpersonal, team and job-level outcomes.

When people felt that their teammates perceived them less positively, they were less likely to ask for help, less willing to communicate openly and honestly and felt less included in their team, the research says.

Moreover, negative perceptions were also related to decreased team effectiveness and decreased job satisfaction.

“If only people knew … how positively their teammates actually felt about them, they might communicate better, feel more included on their teams, and be happier overall with their jobs,’’ the study says.

How to tackle the ‘liking gap’

The co-author of the study about the liking gap among groups and teams gave three tips on how to overcome anxiety about not having made a good first impression.

1. Remind yourself the liking gap exists

Often, we fret about what “we wish we could do better, or what we could improve for next time,” study co-author Erica Boothby told CNBC’s Make It. “We sub in those thoughts for what the other person must be thinking about us, and that’s just not true. They’re thinking about all kinds of other things, and they have their own concerns.”

2. Take action

Even if you don’t hear back from the colleague you had coffee with, it doesn’t mean they’re uninterested, Boothby says. They may be busy thinking the same about you.

“You just need to put yourself out there and make the first move,” she says. “The most likely thing is that you get a positive response back.”

3. Remember the positive feedback loop

In the workplace, it’s worth telling a colleague that you enjoyed talking with them, and that you’re looking forward to talking again soon.

“If you had a good time talking to someone, they probably had a good time too,” Boothby says. Otherwise, you risk missing out on relationships.

Gabi Thesing, Senior Writer, Formative Content

This article was originally published in the World Economic Forum.

Also read:  Climate change deadlier than cancer, widening gap between haves, have-nots, says new UN study


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