Pratfall Effect: How your imperfections make you more likeable
When our psychotic nut head professor left the school to pursue his career somewhere else, we were assigned a new maths teacher in 9th standard.
She, our new teacher, was the epitome of perfection. Extremely well-spoken, punctual, specific, and rigid. A stoic, no-nonsense teacher who took her job very seriously.
She was the kind of person that you can only admire from a distance but never feel a sense of connection.
The day I developed a crush on her, was the day I realized that she shares the same world with me, the day her façade of perfection sublimated.
That day she stubbed her toe on a table and yelled at it as if it was a living and breathing object. It was pretty funny to see her react that way, however, she was quite embarrassed by herself.
Those few moments literally changed my perception of her. It made her a more relatable person.
Apart from being someone having all those admirable qualities, she was now also someone who felt more accessible. Before that moment, she was a part of an entirely different world, a world of perfection, where foul souls like myself would never be allowed.
At that time it struck me as odd to feel that way. She displayed a very clumsy, immature behavior, and that for some weird reason, made me like her even more.
It didn’t become clear to me until recently when I came across the Pratfall Effect.
Let’s talk a bit about it in a little more detail, and understand its implications on business leadership, influencer marketing, and romantic relationships.
What is the Pratfall Effect?
Being a competent person makes you more resourceful. So, it is fair to assume that humans are more attracted to competent individuals. It is also fair to conclude that as the graph of their competence leaps, they will become more attractive.
However, it’s not entirely true. Super-competent people, the ones that are competent on all dimensions of life, can be intimidating as well. Being in their company can make you feel like a loser and you might start to feel you are undeserving to be with them. So your attraction toward people might not increase as they become more competent.
That’s what the pratfall effect is all about. It states that your interpersonal appeal changes after an individual make a mistake depending on the individual’s perceived competence.
Notice that I’ve used the word ‘perceived’ because what might appear to you as competence might be an attempt to fool you. It is nearly impossible for a person to be adept in all aspects of life, but a lot of people try to camouflage themselves under the cloak of perfection.
An experiment was performed which demonstrated that the attractiveness of a superior person is enhanced if he commits a clumsy blunder; the same blunder tends to decrease the the attractiveness of a mediocre person. We predicted these results by conjecturing that a superior person may be viewed as superhuman and, therefore, distant; a blunder tends to. humanize him and, consequently, increases his attractiveness.
Implications of Pratfall Effect in the real world
There’s an episode in the sitcom, Parks, and Recreation, where one of the protagonists, Ann Perkins, gets pregnant. She was experiencing a lot of physiological problems that most women go through during this time. Her husband, being an ideal partner, was extremely careful with her. He tried his best to solve those problems.
However, instead of comforting her, his honest and warm efforts annoyed Ann. While talking to her friends, she said that she just wants him to be with her and acknowledge her problems, instead of always trying to solve them2.
It didn’t make much sense to me then, but now while writing about the Pratfall effect, I think it was a very obvious reaction on her part3.
The point is that we think we deserve someone only when we are the perfect version of ourselves, especially men. However, that’s not true, your flaws make you more humane and accessible. Being flawless is intimidating. And no one wants to be in a relationship with an intimidating person.
In the Creator Economy
Creators like Paras Chopra etc share more intellectually rich information than a lot of mainstream creators. Yet, more people follow the latter than him. Why? Because he appears to be too perfect4 and perfect is boring. With his tweets about random facts and mental models, you fail to relate with him.
The only time he felt relatable was when he shared his massive pile of books concerned about his overspending habits.
Most successful creators5 on social media are flawed to their core, and they don’t shy away from sharing or displaying those flaws.
The lesson here is that if you want to nail it as a content creator, try to reflect an intellectual persona, or whatever talent you have, but don’t hide your imperfections. The former attracts more followers, that latter helps you with retention.
In Business Leadership
To create a positive culture in your company, make sure that you as a manager occasionally share your imperfect side. It’s a super-easy way to increase your employee retention rate.
Doing this will also help the employees to feel more connected to you and your company, and they might even sacrifice the higher-paying job offers just for the culture you have created.
Just make sure, that you are not doing it quite often, or else they will start to perceive you as an incompetent leader, and all your subsequent mistakes will make them dislike you even more.
I appreciate your patience and dedication to reading this essay. I am glad that you made it to the end. I hope you learned something new that will equip you with time-tested mental tools for making better decisions in your business and relationships.
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If you have the time to do that, then make sure to read this research. With only two pages, it’s a very short one.
By the way, it’s a great show that watches on Prime video, highly recommended. You will enjoy the character of Ron Swanson the most.
Keep a note of it, if your virgin ass ever finds a partner.
I am not digging dirt on him or anything, he’s an awesome guy and I have even turned on his tweet notifications.
Creators like Prakhar Gupta, Joe Rogan, etc, fit the bill perfectly.