2 Principles From Psychology That Will Improve Your Relationships With Family, Friends And Loved Ones
Positive and healthy relationships are a lot of work. A lot of it comes from misunderstanding the other person, whether it be your significant other, family or friends. For me, the key to preventing a lot of misunderstanding is actually knowing why we jump to conclusion and make assumptions in the first place.
Now bare with me a little while I dust off my psychology degree, and get a bit nerdy.
The Fundamental Attribution Error: “The tendency to believe that what people do reflects who they are”
For the most part, our society teaches us to judge a character based on actions. For example, if someone holds the door open for you, then they are are nice person, vice versa, if someone runs into you on the street and doesn’t even turn back to apologize, then they are a rude person. The problem with this is that there is no way to know whether or not there was an underlying cause for their actions. Maybe the person who ran into you was running because his pregnant wife was in labour. This error in judgement is called the Fundamental Attribution Error, and it is a very strong response.
Our brains are essentially wired to make these snap judgments. Snap judgments are useful in many situations because it frees up our mental ability to process more information. For example, when our cavemen ancestors heard a loud bang, instead of waiting around to see what it was, it was better to just start running. However, in relationships with other people, making these snap judgments don’t really work.
One time when I was younger, I got insanely jealous because someone I was dating was getting a lot of messages from a girl. It was one of those things where her name would just pop up on the screen and I couldn’t help but take a peek at who it was (I was younger then and had trust issues). At that time, I just made the assumption that he was a player and basically just broke it off (I also didn’t have great communication skills back then). It was a while after that I found out the girl was his best friend's girlfriend, and they were just planning a surprise birthday party.
Had I known better back then, I would have realized that I was just making a crazy assumption and that things aren’t always what they seem. As stated by the Fundamental Attribution Error, the action doesn’t always reflect who that person is.
False Consensus Bias: “The tendency to believe that the majority of people share your values, ideas and opinions”
The False Consensus Bias is another byproduct of our brains getting things wrong by making assumptions and jumping to conclusions. We tend to believe that other people share our values, ideas, and opinions, because making this assumption helps us make sense of the world. People just do not have the time to sort through and analyze every person they come into contact with. Making these generalizations makes our day to day interactions easier, but it also leads to misunderstanding.
To see this bias in action, think about a food that you really enjoy. Now estimate the percentage of people in your city who also enjoy it. You’re estimate is probably pretty high, isn’t it? For me, I really enjoy sushi. My gut reaction is that everyone likes sushi! I’m also from Vancouver, so there are basically as many sushi joints as there are fast food places. When there was a potluck at an event I was attending, I brought sushi thinking everyone would enjoy it. To my surprise, many people did not enjoy sushi because they were from areas where sushi was less common and they did not have the stomach for raw fish. In this situation, the False Consensus bias made me overestimate the number of people who shared my love for sushi, and left me with a lot of uneaten food - not a huge deal.
Now translate this bias to your relationships and it’s easy to see how conflict can stem from it. Back when I was at a job that required lots of night shifts, there were times when I would skip out on birthday parties. I assumed my friends didn’t mind because these parties would usually be in a big group setting and I would make up for it by spending time with them one on one. I actually valued this more than being at a big birthday party, but my friends simply had different values than me. Their feelings were hurt and I felt bad, but it’s what happens when you assume that others have the same values and beliefs as you.
The False Consensus Bias is something everyone should be aware of. Just remember that someone else’s beliefs aren’t better or worse than yours, they’re just different.
Learning these two principles have helped me a lot to understand others, and myself. I hope it reduces the likelihood of people jumping to conclusions and making assumptions, and ultimately help create better relationships.