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Six Reasons to Give Someone a Second Chance

5. Someone else may have biased your opinion in the first place.

Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock
Source: Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

You’ve finally had it with an acquaintance who constantly bugs you. The two of you have never seen eye to eye and as a result, your blood pressure shoots up even when you think about this person. It’s sad in a way because when you first met, you thought there was a connection. Now, however, the sooner you can eliminate this person from your life, the happier you’ll be.

Before you’re able to cut off all communication, something odd happens: Inadvertently, you’re at the same gathering, seated next to each other in such a way that you can’t just get up and move. The individual turns to you and compliments your new haircut. You start chatting, and realize that maybe this person isn’t so terrible after all. In fact, you totally misjudged the person. Rather than being self-centered and snooty, as you had concluded, the person is a little bit shy and not conceited at all. It’s not long until you’re making plans to renew your acquaintanceship.

Experiences like this teach us that we can incorrectly judge others, missing opportunities to enrich our lives. Sometimes our mistaken judgements occur when we are blind to other people’s flaws, in which case we can be in for some disillusioning experiences. They can even end up costing us money as when a “friend” takes advantage of you. The opposite situation, when we’re too harsh at first, can prevent us from getting to know people who might actually be good for us.

Overly harsh judgments of others might require a second glance. These can include evaluations we make at work, whether it’s a fellow employee, a boss, or a supervisee. In these cases, there can be a lot at stake. You either fire someone who didn’t deserve it, or get fired because your boss senses your disapproval. Fellow employees who you regard negatively because you don’t seem to like them can also influence your job opportunities. They’ll poison the well and cause others to dislike you too.

Why do we sometimes make these incorrect judgements? One possibility is that we allow superficial qualities of a person to lead us to be overly harsh. You don’t like someone’s style of clothing (too fussy, too informal, or too sloppy), so you draw faulty inferences about that person’s personality based on these indicators.

You might also misjudge someone based on that person’s outward characteristics of age, gender, ethnicity, nationality, race, or social class. As hard as people try, it’s sometimes difficult to get over the stereotypes to which we’re exposed, especially when someone seems to fit that stereotype particularly well.

On a completely different note, a third party may sway you to judge someone too harshly and lead you to the wrong conclusions. Greg tells you that Sally is untrustworthy, incompetent, or mean, and so you find it hard to approach your judgment that Sally fits Greg’s negative characterization. A third possibility is that you’re jealous of the other person. It makes you feel bad about yourself to be around Sally because she seems to have everything going for her. So you start to pick at things about her that are flawed.

It’s also possible that your mood can influence the way you think others perceive you. If you believe that others are rejecting you, you may downgrade them in your mind to avoid hurting. University of California Davis’s Justin Caouette and Amanda Guyer (2015) tested what they call the Emotional Context Insensitivity (ECI) hypothesis which proposes that when you’re depressed, you don’t respond as strongly to either positive or negative events.

Caouette and Guyer tested the ECI hypothesis by exposing undergraduates to social situations in which they were made to feel that someone else accepted or rejected them. People with higher scores on a questionnaire measure of depression had lower expectations about how others would treat them. This meant that they were less let down when they actually experienced rejection (because their expectations were already lower). Even when those with higher depression scores were in the acceptance condition, they were less likely to feel a positive affect.

Now that you’re aware of the problem and some possible explanations, let’s take a look at the six most prominent reasons to give second chances:

1. You’re missing out on expanding your horizons.

It’s sometimes difficult to relate to people who seem different from us, as the social psychology of stereotyping has made abundantly clear. Getting over these stereotypes can help you learn from someone from a different social background, ethnicity, or nationality. Not only that, but you’ll be better able to work through your social biases when you gain experience with people who differ from you in ways you now realize aren’t all that important.

2. You might end up being surprised.

If you open your mind up to giving someone a second chance, you might realize that you had this person all wrong. As in the example I gave above, rather than being conceited, the other person was just nervous. It turns out the two of you have a lot in common. A very strong friendship could emerge of what seemed like a done deal.

3. You were in a bad mood when you decided to give up on the other person.

As the Caouette and Guyer study showed, your mood can affect the way you perceive the way others feel about you. If you drew the wrong conclusions about someone because you were sad at the time, putting yourself in a better frame of mind could give you a whole different perspective on that person.

4. It was jealousy that led you to reject the person in the first place.

Being envious of someone who you think is better than you could lead you to want to distance yourself from that individual. If you could get past those feelings of threat from the other person, you may learn why others regard that individual so highly.

5. It was someone else’s negative intention that led you to reject the person.

All kinds of reasons could have motivated Greg’s words about Sally, of which jealousy is a prime candidate. Greg wanted you to see Sally in a negative light so that you’d pay more attention to him, or maybe he just takes pleasure in running others down.

6. You are putting yourself at risk if you don’t.

It’s not good to reject the people you need to get your job done or enjoy your social or family life. When you give others at work the cold shoulder, it can eventually lock you out of opportunities for professional advancement. At family gatherings or out with your friends, you’ll find others inviting you out less often.

Even after giving someone a second chance, you might find out that your original decision to dislike or not want to be with that person was right after all. However, that second chance may lead to opportunities for fulfillment that you might otherwise never have found possible.

Follow me on Twitter @swhitbo for daily updates on psychology, health, and aging. Feel free to join my Facebook group, "Fulfillment at Any Age," to discuss today's blog, or to ask further questions about this posting.


Caouette, J. D., & Guyer, A. E. (2016). Cognitive distortions mediate depression and affective response to social acceptance and rejection. Journal Of Affective Disorders, 190792-799. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2015.11.015

Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne 2016

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