Most of us know that people act and react differently depending on how we treat them, but few of us actually understand that how we think about others will ALSO subconsciously affect how they treat us. While manipulation with flattery and gifts (bribes) can sometimes work, that kind of fakery can backfire as people can sense it. If we want to improve how other people treat us, then here’s a valuable psychology lesson that we have to learn.
Once upon a time, in ancient Greece…
…on the island of Cyprus, there lived its king named Pygmalion, who was an extremely talented sculptor. One day, he decided to sculpt an ivory statue of a woman representing his ideal of womanhood. Upon completing his masterpiece, the statue that King Pygmalion made was so beautiful that he himself fell in love with it. He cared for it daily, as if it was a real woman.
One day, on the festival of Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, King Pygmalion secretly made a wish—to have a wife, just like his ivory girl. As he went home, he kissed his statue and felt that its lips were warm. As he kissed it again, the statue was now soft like human flesh. The Goddess Aphrodite had given it life, and it had become his perfect woman. They soon got married and started a family. That woman later became known as Galatea.
Modern psychologists have used this legend as an inspiration for naming two psychological concepts on self-fulfilling prophecies: The Pygmalion Effect, and the Galatea Effect. Here’s how they’re defined according to Oxford:
How to Change How People Treat You: The Galatea and Pygmalion Effect
Pygmalion Effect (Psychology)
In simpler terms, if you expect people to do well then they likely will, and if you expect bad things from them they’ll likely act badly as well. There’s actually an interesting study about this in 1968 done by researchers Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson. In that study, they went to an elementary school and gave students IQ tests, and they told the teachers the names of some students who were considered “intellectual bloomers” (i.e. they will get smarter). One year later they gave the same test and, while all students improved, the students who were named “intellectual bloomers” improved the most.
Here’s the twist: The students who were named “intellectual bloomers” were chosen at random. The label had no basis on the IQ test or on potential talent at all. In short, the students the teachers EXPECTED to be intelligent actually became more intelligent. Expectations alone improved those students’ performance.
Note: You can read more about that study here on this link: https://simplysociology.com/pygmalion-effect.html
Galatea Effect (Psychology)
Henry Ford said it best: “whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right”. Whatever someone believes about themselves will affect their actions and the results they get in life. The athlete who seriously believes they can win the gold medal and actually wants to win it will practice harder and more often than someone who just wants the medal but they think they’ll just lose in the first round. The employee who believes they’ll get promoted will likely work harder and be better at dealing with their bosses, clients, and coworkers compared to another employee who is content with their position and is just aiming to not get fired.
Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.Henry Ford
Change your expectations, change your world
One of the most basic and fundamental laws of life is that our thoughts become our words and actions, and then, like karma, they become the basis of how people and things react to us. Our thoughts affect how well we perform at our job or business, and they also affect the people around us. Obviously, if we hate someone and we glare at them or badmouth them, we might get punched in the face. What’s less obvious, however, is that even if we try to hide our hatred or other negative thoughts, they will still subconsciously show up in our body language and facial expressions. Other people WILL sense it, and they will treat us negatively in return.
Have you ever met a bad boss who plays favorites, and you can sense that they just hate you for some reason? While they may not directly say it, you can still feel it based on how they treat you. You would probably feel stressed or afraid whenever they’re around, which means you’re unable to do your job well… and that will lead to them hating you even more. It’s a vicious cycle. Well, that boss is what YOU will be like if you have negative beliefs about others, and that cycle will affect you and the people around you as well.
If you don’t want things to turn out that way in your career, business, family life, and more, then change your beliefs and expectations about others into something more positive. That way, you’ll get positive results in return (Pygmalion Effect).
As a personal example, I follow that positive expectations tip whenever I need to go and get some government paperwork done. I expect people to treat me well and I treat the employees nicely so they’re usually always happy to help. Things would still proceed at normal speed, but it makes the whole ordeal more pleasant. Things likely won’t be as nice if I go in there looking grumpy and pissed off because I expect to be inconvenienced.
Just as important as how our thoughts and beliefs affect others is how our own thoughts and expectations affect ourselves. There’s a popular comic that pops up whenever you google search “Pygmalion effect”, and it’s about the cycle featuring a girl who started to believe she’s pretty. Because of the compliment, she takes care of herself and does what pretty girls do (makeup, dresses well, etc.), leading to more people complimenting her, and that further reinforces her belief that she is pretty. The cycle continues on.
It’s easy enough to imagine. Someone who is confident—someone who expects great things from themselves—will move and walk in a confident way, look people in the eye and talk a little louder, and take more risks and opportunities. Because of their behavior people see them as more attractive, and they will likely get more offers and opportunities because others imagine that they can actually succeed at making things happen.
On the other hand, someone who doesn’t believe in themselves will likely shrink in the corner, speak like they’re afraid, and avoid eye contact. They can try dressing well if they want, but the fear and insecurities shine through subconsciously through their body language and behavior. People can sense that and see them as “creepy”. They’ll think they’re less likely to succeed, so people who offer opportunities will likely avoid them. After all, it’s useless to offer an opportunity to someone who’d likely fail and waste it.
Whether it’s for your job, your business, your health, your hobbies, or any other thing where you want your performance to improve, you must start by having faith in yourself. Whether it’s through affirmations or through practice and expertise, convince yourself deep down that you’ve already succeeded and it’s just a matter of time until you get better results.
Remember the phrase “fake it ‘till you make it”? If you do things seriously enough, then it’s NOT fake. It’s that faith, self-confidence, and the serious perseverance that will all increase your chances of success.
Believe you can and you’re halfway there.— Theodore Roosevelt
Some final disclaimers:
- There are no shortcuts in life. Believing in yourself and believing in others is a good start, but nothing in life is ever guaranteed. You still have to put in the work: study and practice. Deep seated traumas can also sabotage your efforts.
- Believing in the good in others also doesn’t mean that you should be a doormat or that you should let people abuse you. It’s like eating healthy. Expect the best, but always throw out all the spoiled and rotting food. You don’t need toxic people in your life.
- On a side note, don’t be paranoid either. Most people are good and harmless, but always have a reasonable sense of caution as bad people do exist.
Your thoughts matter. They affect how you act, consciously or subconsciously, and in turn they affect how people (and circumstances) treat you. Since there’s no escaping the need to talk to and interact with other people, you have to be wary of how your thoughts affect not just what you do, but the people around you. If you want things to improve, if you want to be treated better by people, and if you want the people you lead to do better, then improve your expectations.
Positive expectations bring positive results.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you learned a lot from this article! We’ll end this lesson here for now. If you want to learn more, then check out some of our other articles on different topics on this link!
- How you get what you Expect: Why Life is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
- Having Problems? Try The Possibility Thinking Game
- How to be a Better Leader using “Commander’s Intent”