I was preening my rapidly greying hair yesterday while one of my daughters was looking on. I asked for her opinion and she said: “to be honest, Mum, I can’t tell the difference between when you think it looks good and when you don’t”. Then, in that condescending tone only teenagers can manage, she added: “It’s called the Spotlight Effect, you know”.
I did know and, ironically, I was succumbing to it.
The Spotlight Effect is a cognitive bias that makes us think we are being noticed way more than we really are. If we have been noticed, the Spotlight Effect makes us think the people who saw our slip-up or our flaw care much more than they really do.
It happens when we trip over, when we say something silly, and when we fixate on some perceived flaw or other. We think everyone has seen. And if they have seen, we think they care a great deal about it.
Have you ever felt self-conscious when you stumble over words in an important meeting or presentation? Probably. Have you ever cared or been judgemental when someone else stumbles in similar circumstances? Probably not.
What should we do?
- Don’t let the Spotlight Effect win. Don’t avoid advocating for yourself because you are worried other people will notice or care.
- When you do something great, don’t assume others have noticed. When you need others to know what you have achieved, find a way to tell them.
I work with my negotiation coaching clients to find ways of speaking up and speaking out in nerve-wracking situations. Get in touch if you want to learn more.