By: Stephanie Slater MA RCC CCC

The liking gap refers to the phenomenon where individuals underestimate how much others like them. So for example, say you meet someone at a party and chat for 5-10 minutes and walk away, research indicates that you would probably think the other person doesn’t like you as much as they actually do. Meaning: there is a gap between how much you THINK people like you and how much they ACTUALLY like you. Social psychology research tells us others probably like you more than you think and this is termed: the liking gap. 

The liking gap can lead to missed social opportunities and a decreased sense of belonging. Two peer-reviewed journal articles that discuss the liking gap are “The Liking Gap in Conversations: Do People Like Us More Than We Think?” by Boothby, Clark, and Bargh (2017) and “The Liking Gap in Close Relationships: Why You and Your Partner May Not Agree on How Much You Like Each Other” by Patrick, Knee, and Lonsbary (2019).

For shy individuals, the liking gap can be particularly problematic. Shy individuals may perceive themselves as less likable than they actually are and therefore avoid social interactions. However, research suggests that shy individuals are often viewed positively by others, and that their shyness may even be endearing. Research has yet to be done on social anxiety and the liking gap, but my decade of experience as a therapist for people with anxiety tells me that those with social anxiety probably have an even larger liking gap. Often people with social anxiety are convinced that others will judge them or think poorly of them, and their beliefs are typically not supported by reality. This is where Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can be so helpful and helping people see how the errors in their thinking may be holding them back. 

To overcome the liking gap, individuals can employ a number of strategies. One strategy is to actively seek out feedback from others about how they are perceived. This is called a “perception check”, and it’s a great CBT tool. Simply asking another trusted person or therapist for their feedback can be helpful. Another is to focus on building positive relationships by showing interest in others and actively listening to what they have to say. Additionally, individuals can work on improving their self-esteem and self-confidence through exercise, mindfulness, and positive self-talk.

The importance of friendship and social interaction cannot be overstated. Strong social connections have been linked to improved mental and physical health, as well as increased happiness and life satisfaction. Taking steps to overcome the liking gap and build positive relationships can lead to a more fulfilling and enjoyable life.

Overcoming the liking gap might be more difficult for those who are shy and may be harder still for those with social anxiety. However, a trained therapist, particularly a therapist trained in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, can help you overcome social anxiety and start on the journey of building more friendships. 

A Slater and Associates Therapist would be happy to speak with you for a FREE 20 minute consultation about how you might start the journey of overcoming social anxiety. Therapy can help.