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?
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.
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.
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.
- You accidentally spilled coffee on a woman.
- You ruined her dress.
- You possibly had a very big negative impact on her interview.
- She did not accept your apology or your offer to have her dress cleaned.
- 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.
- I wouldn’t have spilled the coffee on her if she was paying attention.
- She shouldn’t have been standing so close to me.
- 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.
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?
You 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:
- Not be hurt so easily.
- Give people the opportunity to apologize and make things right.
- 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.