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How Other People's Expectations Control Us

Read below Philip Hesketh's latest newsletter:

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In ‘As you Like It’ Shakespeare wrote that all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players. Not bad for someone who never left England.

Of course, what he was really saying is that life is all about relationships. And nowhere is that more true than in your world right now.

I added that last bit.

However, the question is not whether it is nobler to suffer slings and arrows. That’s an easy one: avoid them at all cost. The real question is do we act our part simply to achieve our objectives, or are we influenced by how we think other people view us?

This idea that other people’s expectations about us directly affect how we behave was examined by Dr Mark Snyder from the University of Minnesota. Acknowledging that one of the quickest ways people stereotype each other is by appearance, he set up a series of ‘blind dates’ whereby couples chatted to one another via headsets but did not actually meet.

Like most good psychological experiments a certain amount of sleight of hand was involved.

Two fistfuls, to be precise.

You see, psychologists know that it’s human nature to assume that people who are very attractive are also more sociable, humorous and intelligent. Think Peter and Katie.

So, men were given a photograph of the woman they were going to chat to. Except of course, the photograph wasn’t genuine. Half were given pictures of real stunners and half of the women were somewhat more challenged in the looks department. So, would the women pick up on the vibe given off by the men and unconsciously fit into the stereotype they had been randomly assigned? That’s to say, would the ‘beautiful’ women actually be more friendly and sociable and would the ‘less attractive women’ be dull and uninteresting?

On analysing the audio tapes, independent observers concluded that the ‘attractive’ women did indeed exhibit more of the behaviours stereotypically associated with attractive people: they talked more animatedly and seemed to be enjoying the chat more. In short, they conformed to the stereotype the men projected on to them. It seems people really do sense how they are viewed by others and change their behaviour to match this expectation.

Shakespeare was right.

The world is a stage. Expect your fellow players to like you and think well of you and you will improve the way they see you. Shakespeare called it the ‘Bubble Reputation’ in the same play.

Understanding that other people’s expectations of us directly affect our own behaviour means we have to be very careful when meeting a new client. Particularly if we think they don’t like us. Because that negative vibe will influence their behaviour in a negative way.

On the upside, it also means that they are more likely to do just that. As the meerkat says: ‘simples’.

 

Philip Hesketh is a professional speaker on the psychology of persuasion and influence