Ever had the experience of knowing what was going to happen in a situation before it happened? Ever thought you knew how someone would behave in a particular situation? Or ever thought you knew how … you would behave in a particular situation or how the outcome of some situation you were in would turn out? I am sure this has happened on many an occasion … and when it does happen we sometimes think that … wow… I knew this would happen this way. Or we think … but of course it would happen this way … because this guy always behaves this way. Or of course it would happen this way to me … I never have any luck.
So can we see the future?
Anyone really think that we have prophetic powers? Well generally no I think. So how does this happen then?
Can we influence others behavior?
Well research has proven that yes, we actually can and do influence the behavior of others by our own behavior and attitudes. So ‘my attitude’ influences ‘my behavior’. ‘My behavior’ influences ‘your attitude’ and ‘your attitude’ influences ‘your behavior’. And then finally ‘your behavior’ influences ‘my attitude’ … and so the cycle goes on. We influence each other as no one lives in a vacuum.
So how can we know how someone else is going to behave in a certain situation?
Well let’s say there is a guy (Kushan) who always gives me attitude. If I ask him to do something he never responds happily and willingly but always reluctantly and with an exceedingly grumpy demeanor. Well it so happens that I need to ask him to do something today as well … and as I expect … as soon as I ask him to do it … his grumpy face comes on and everything happens just as I expect. So do I have the gift of prophecy?
What really happened here?
As I said … Kushan behaved exactly as I expected. But was I in any way influencing his behavior? If the situation had been video recorded we would have probably seen that the way in which I asked Kushan to carry out the task (my tone, demeanor, body language, etc) would have made anyone grumpy. So Kushan’s behavior was the result of my attitude and behavior to him and wasn’t something that was resulting from some traits unique to Kushan. Why did I behave that way towards Kushan? Because I expected that behavior from him and unconsciously my body language, etc., reflected my thoughts and expectations.
Of course there is the possibility that whatever way I interacted with Kushan (even if I was very nice) he would have still been grumpy. But you will probably realize that this is the exception rather than the rule.
Self Fulfilling Prophecy
So what happens is that whenever I interact with Kushan … I expect him to behave in a certain way. So I behave in the way that I expect he is going to respond to. E.g., because I expect him to be uncooperative and grumpy … unconsciously … my behavior to him is … well grumpy and arrogant. And as expected his reactions is exactly what I thought it would be! Did I create ‘this particular situation’ by initiating my behavior? Well quite possible I think.
So this is what social psychologists call a ‘self fulfilling prophecy’. We get what we expect to get because unconsciously our behavior mirrors our expectation. In order to make this clearer take a situation of going for a party organized by a good friend. You know that all your other friends will be present. You are looking forward to seeing them all and having a good time – and therefore you go for the party in anticipation of the fantastic time you are going to have. So do you have a good time? Of course you do … you went expecting to have a good time and this did materialize. Were you in anyway responsible for the good time you had? Well what do you think? I think yes again. Your behavior would have made your friends happy and reflectively their behavior would have increased feelings of happiness and warmth in you. Self Fulfilling Prophecy – Or reaction follows action!
Another example of this is a story that was related to me by a person I was coaching who worked for a bank. Lets say his name was Sarath and his boss was Nishan. His complaint was that Nishan didn’t like him, so however well he did, he wasn’t getting promoted. When we went further into his story and analyzed it, what we both realized was that – because of how Sarath perceived Nishan and his behavior, whenever they had an interaction, Sarath’s words, tone and body language were being colored by his perception of ‘Nishan not liking him’. Inadvertently he was signally Nishan, that ‘he (Sarath) didn’t like him’, so even if his initial perception was wrong, now Nishan the boss was actually disliking him as a reaction to the way that Sarath was treating him. Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Again!
The most popular at school
An interesting research I stumbled on was about what made the most popular students, well the most popular! Interestingly it wasn’t the best looking or good looks, but the most popular students turned out to be the students who liked the most number of other students, and who were the friendliest. We like those who like us. So not strange after all.
Let’s be careful of how we predict the behavior of others and even our own behavior
There is overwhelming evidence to support the thinking of the ‘self fulfilling prophecy’ – so next time you are in a particular situation or you think that you got exactly what you expected … just pause for a minute and see if you were actually instrumental in how the events turned out. We actually do get what we expect most of the time … and this is mostly caused by us. So if we want a better outcome … lets work on it shall we? In the immortal words of George Lucas – ‘May the force be with you’