So the other day I was scrolling down my Facebook feed when I noticed a meme about feeding the homeless. I looked over to see who posted it…
And suddenly it hit me. Why was I checking to see who posted it?
To decide whether to like it or not.
If it was someone I liked, I’d think, “Wow, yet another example of Person X’s kind nature. I’m so glad Person X is my friend.”
If it was someone who annoyed me, I’d probably think, “Look at Person Y trolling for likes again, all self-righteous and attention-seeking. That’s why Person Y pisses me off so much… always on the hypocritical high-horse.”
See, even when Person X and Person Y say the exact same thing, it just ends up reinforcing what I already thought of them. And I’m guessing I’m not the only person who does this.
I’m further guessing this rationalization process goes far beyond Facebook memes. That’s the problem with books like How To Win Friends and Influence People and others like it… your behavior can be interpreted a billion different ways, based on how people already feel about you.
Most of these popularity manuals essentially boil down to not being a dick, but the real world doesn’t seem to support that. Were the nicest kids in your high school the most popular ones? Maybe some, but I’m betting a lot of them were complete assholes.
You can interpret niceness as needy or approval-seeking, while interpreting jerky behavior as confidence. In fact, there was this study done where scientists had people play games with selfish and unselfish partners because they wanted to see if selfish players would be excluded.
They threw in a really nice player as a control, and were shocked to find out that people rejected the super-nice one as often as the selfish one.
But what does “too nice” mean? Maybe the right amount of “nice” means whatever is normal for your social group.
Either way, simply being nice is obviously not the ticket to popularity. There’s also this article from Forbes, which talks about how rude people are often considered smarter and more competent. Apparently, rude salespeople even sell more than polite ones.
So if friendliness and good manners aren’t the answer, and whatever we do or say will be interpreted according to what people already think of us, then what actually makes us decide we like someone or not?
Maybe it depends on how they make us feel about ourselves? Whether they support our worldview? Whether we view them as members of our tribe?
I’m not sure, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about.