July 12

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The Reverse Halo Effect

There’s a cognitive bias called the halo effect; this is when we see a person in a much more positive light than we should or when we take too much credence in the information they give us.

I believe it gets its name from those Renaissance paintings in which a saintly figure is seen to pass down their revered knowledge, depicted as having a halo above their head, bathing their face in heavenly light. In these pictures, the halo informs us of the saint’s importance and also that of the message they are giving us.

I’ve never actually seen a person with a halo above their head, nor anyone with the sunshine shining out of their arse in the real world. Yet I’ve often seen good looking people, popular people, and charismatic people get more credence in meetings than they really should be getting.

Every day I see adverts on TV and adverts posted on billboards where good looking, beautiful, or famous people are promoting brands, watches, perfumes, etc. It’s well known that we are more likely to buy something advertised by a beautiful person, and because we are drawn towards popular people, a positive evaluation of that individual can affect your perception of the situation, your future decisions, and your actions.

When giving advice, the problems I see are not usually the result of the halo effect. The issues I see in my consultation room and especially when a person refutes good advice, are caused by the opposite of the Halo Effect aptly named The Reverse Halo effect.

The Reverse Halo Effect is the opposite of the halo effect, and it’s the real subject of this lesson and maybe the reason you might find it challenging to accept good advice when it’s given.

Recently when giving gentle advice to a very overweight person, she looked me up and down and said to me, ‘you don’t understand’, and she was right because I didn’t understand what she was feeling about being overweight. I did, however, understand what it took to be slim and fit and what she could do to improve her health. During the consultation, I could see from then on that my advice was falling on deaf ears. On reflection, I realised the reverse halo effect was part of the problem, and because I wasn’t overweight, in her words, I didn’t understand, she couldn’t relate to me, and this affected her judgement and her acceptance of the quality of the information I was giving.

The problem with the Reverse Halo Effect is when you disregard and dismiss advice just because you aren’t similar to that person.

What I’m trying to say is; don’t disregard the advice of a successful person if you want to be successful, or the fit person if you want to get fit, or in this case, a slim person if you want to lose weight.

Ask yourself, who are you surrounded by, because like people attract each other. Like people agree with each other, and like people are comfortable together. Similar people have similar views, values, habits and behaviours. But if you want to change, perhaps you also need to surround yourself with different types of people, with different views, and by those who do things differently.

For most things in life, we get it right, for example; if we want to learn to drive, we might take instruction from someone who can drive like a driving instructor, or maybe if we want to learn how to speak French, we get lessons from someone who can actually parle Francais. This may sound like basic common sense for most of us, but as usual, common sense is easily disregarded when we’re affected by a cognitive bias.

For example, an unhappy person might surround themselves with other unhappy people, or a person with anxiety might be supported by others with anxiety. People with similar issues, problems and experiences relate, understand, and can easily empathise with each other. The problem is that sometimes those we relate to don’t give the best advice.

Look at the people who have what you don’t have, what have they done to get there, what did they do to get what they’ve got.

As for the lady who told me I didn’t understand her, I also told her she didn’t understand me either, and I then showed her my lunch (a salad with some egg and tinned tuna, in a sealed container that was in my bag under my desk that I had prepared earlier that morning). I also told her what I’d had for breakfast, and I also told her that as well as her not understanding me, even my wife thought I was crazy to have got up at 5.30 that morning to spend an hour doing intervals at just sub-threshold effort on my exercise bike. We then agreed on some minor changes we could both do to make our lives a little better.

When people don’t take advice, sometimes it’s due to the reverse halo effect. They simply fail to listen to the people they should really be listening to. Often they let a negative affinity for a person affect their acceptance of the advice they are given.

People who are different to you are not your enemy; they just do things differently than you do. But if you want to be like them and get what they have got, maybe you also need to listen to their advice, do the things they do and take up some of their traits.

Don’t let first impressions of a person affect your judgement, and don’t let your affinity or lack of affinity with a person affect the advice they are giving you. Good ideas and good advice are simply good ideas and good advice whether they come from; the charismatic boss or that quiet unpopular person that sits by themselves at the back of the office.

The people you relate to and who give you support and empathy don’t always give you the best advice. Often they’re going to tell you what you want to hear, and maybe the advice you need is never actually going to come from them.

It’s not just how you respond to the halo or the reverse halo effect and how these cognitive biases affect your judgment; this is only half the problem, as these effects can also change a person’s attitude towards you too.

My parents always told me to turn up on time, dress well, brush my teeth and wash behind my ears, and since then, I’ve also learned that shaving, showering, and ironing my shirt, brushing my hair, using deodorant, smiling, and being personable goes a long way too. In life, making a good impression and definitely making a good first impression goes a really long way to help you get what you want.

You may not wear a halo or be one of those people to who everyone is naturally attracted, but you can relate and build rapport with others. The halo effect and the reverse halo effect can affect how others respond to you just as much as how you respond to them.

The antidote to the halo effect is never to judge a book by its cover, whereas a remedy for the reverse halo effect is to respect your enemy, both good bits of advice, I’d say.


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