What Others Think of Us: Should We Worry About It or Not? – By Osvaldo Torres Cruz

We humans are Homo sapiens, which means the man who knows that he thinks, and the act of thinking is what differentiates us from other living species and determines our consciousness of existing, as summarized by the philosopher Rene Descartes in his famous phrase: ‘Cogito ergo sum’ : ‘I think, therefore, I exist’.

Thoughts are that “inner voice” that constantly accompanies us during our vigil state (when we are awake), and they are the product of neuronal connections (synapses) of neurons (fundamental cells of the human brain). Science still does not know the exact mechanism by which thoughts originate, but we do know that they respond to the stimuli that we filter both from the external world that surrounds us and from our inner world.

Today, neuroscience has shown that thoughts are energy that guides our attention and triggers emotions that condition the manifestation of behaviors as an adaptive response to the world where we live. We human beings are a source of stimuli for other human beings, and they will activate thoughts that trigger emotions which, in turn, will determine the behavior we manifest in front of others.

What has been said before guides us to the following reflection: the behaviors others manifest with respect to us will depend on what they think of us. Let’s see an example: if I think that Juan is a person not to be trusted, it is very likely that I prefer not to be part of his circle of friends, or not to ask him to help me at a certain time.

This leads us to state that it is important to pay attention to what others think of us. However, the fundamental question is to know how to choose who are the others whose way of thinking about us is of interest to us. We will call them “the significant others”. An indicator of choice of the “significant others” is, without a doubt, the meaning that their behaviors toward us may have, since this meaning is the one that will determine our value judgment on their thinking. Let’s see an example for a business scenario:

The client is the one who chooses our products and services, so if he/she thinks that these are not the ones that can satisfy him/her, the behavior that the client will manifest is that of not paying attention and not buying any. Therefore, he/she will draw away from the company, and this conduct will cause a loss for the business and for us as workers, because we will be affected in one way or another. In this case, we are interested in knowing what the client thinks about us (the company).

On the other hand, if we work in the customer service department and someone outside the company thinks that we do not have the necessary skills to perform our work, this thought may not attract our attention, as it does not affect our work performance. A different scenario would be if that thought comes directly from a client or from our leaders, because the behavior generated by that thought would have an impact on us.

According to this, we have three large groups:

1 – People who pay attention to, for the most part, everything that others may think about them (all categorized as “significant others”). These people generally live a life conditioned by what people say; they fail to build their own lifestyle as they condition it to what others will say, so they can feel under pressure, indecisive, frustrated, stressed and insecure.

2 – People who do not pay attention to what others may think about them, (they classify others as ‘insignificant’), and go through life without considering the effect of their acts on others. They are selfish, with little empathy, they feel superior, different and insurmountable.

3 – People who are moved only by what their “significant others” may think of them. These people are more balanced in their lifestyle, they relate better with other people, they respect the relationships they may have and, above all, they develop empathic capacities that strengthen ties with those whom they consider important in their lives.

I give you a personal example: after having gone through a hurricane in the area where I live, we were almost 6 days without electricity or Internet, so it was impossible to communicate with ‘my significant others’ (family, friends), and I was worried about what they could be thinking about my condition, and the emotional state they could be in. So, as soon as I had the opportunity to leave the house, I looked for a place with electricity and a Wi-Fi signal and was able to communicate with them.

Now, what happens if what the “significant other” thinks of me does not correspond to what I think of myself? Then, what I suggest is that both types of unharmonious thoughts must be brought over the table in order for both to reach an agreement, so that this difference may affect as little as possible the behaviors that we manifest with respect to each other.

If there is something that distinguishes us as human beings, it is that we are social beings and this socialization in terms of relationships is what has allowed us to become what we are: the most developed species on our planet. Having the ability to know how to choose who the others that make up our most important relational space are will help us pay attention to what they may think of us and establish healthy, solid and lasting behavior patterns.

Licenciado Osvaldo Torres
Director Experience Hospitality Consultancy
Work Team Coach