The Perception Curve: Dynamics of an Acquaintance

Author: Sahadeo Chaudhary, GPHR
Date: Sep 28, 2020

An acquaintance, which we refer many a times as an experience or familiarity with one’s office colleague, a contractor, reporting manager or a reportee or a casual companion. The phases that an acquaintance undergoes are unique yet quite common across the whole cycle. It may not be wrong to say that the phases could be in line with the evolutionary process where different timelines are attached to it and as time passes an equilibrium sets in. It is interesting to note that the phases, as I put it across are related and many a times inversely proportional to the variables of the other individual’s determining your competence and power about you. Adding to it, the context, the need, and the age of the acquaintance are also the common variables which have a significant impact in your acquaintance with the other person. At the same time, the power and the degree of influence exerted also has an influence on the overall dynamics.

It is worthwhile to note that every relationship or association is based on dynamic propositions, and it influences the gravity of togetherness. Hence, overall, it’s a scenario wherein the variables combined, make an aura or image of the person who is in co-acquaintance.  Over the years in various experiences, the way relationships evolve can be put across in a concept of an acquaintance curve. The acquaintance curve is majorly a function of two factors or variables; the positive perception of the individual to the knowledge the person is aware of the other and the same can be inversely correlated.
These two variables define the dynamics of an acquaintance or an association, the phenomenon claims, as you know the person more, the extent of positive perception starts to diminish. Most of the time the perception contracts as compared to an initial stage. To put it across in phases, they are divided into four phases namely High Regards, Reality Cue, Stable Elevation and Moderated Phase. The time frame as in a normal set up, gradually spreads across from 0-3/0-6 weeks, 6 – 12 weeks, 12 – 18 weeks and over 18+ weeks, respectively.  It’s prudent to understand the phase in which one is there and this can be in a context to a work environment or a non-family relationship as these dynamics highly influences your ability to co-work, experience respect and enjoy positive sentiment about oneself. These variables have an impact on the ability to get things done with your counterpart!
The first phase is a key phase and is characterised by mutual acknowledgment and respect. Your ability to get things done is the easiest in this first phase, as the other acquaintance is likely to perceive it as a privilege to collaborate with you and so he or she shall be in a mode of an enthusiasm around the whole collaboration. Also, it’s an ideal time to manifest the perceived confidence, trust and elate the perception levels about oneself so as to exhibit and create an image which personifies and classifies you as a reliable and trustworthy acquaintance. This stage would later influence the level of moderation of the whole relationship/association over a period of time in the forthcoming phases. The key is to stay in this phase for long. This is a phase when ideally people can endeavour and should contemplate to initiate, win, or close contracts/assignments. As many variables determine to what extent one is able to be in this stage, as time passes, there’s an eventual transition to the next stages. The strategy for oneself can be to stay longer in the initial stage and manage exposing your core perspectives, traits, real capabilities, weaknesses and keep an element of mystery of your real self and potential. The determinant herein is the knowledge about you and to what extent the other acquaintance believes he or she can be benefited from your acquaintance, a latent need or hope keeps the element of sustainability and attraction of being in the said arrangement. Some influence the overall approach of how it connects and is able to sustain the relationship. In a scenario where most of the associations are brief and wherein, we interact with loads of people as we travel, co work and co habit for few projects. It becomes imperative the way one deals with it and realises how he or she makes the association fruitful for the organization or for a project or for oneself.
The second phase is more of a realization and understanding of the capabilities of the new incumbent. This phase (Reality cue) is where the other individual starts forming perceptions and assumptions about potential, competence, and possible expectations. In most of the cases as one gauge and knows a person’s competence, the positive perception is likely to take a dive and if the interaction is intermittent, it undergoes a minimal change. Predictability also plays a key role in the whole dynamics, the more predictable one becomes for the other acquaintance in an official or business setting, the more likelihood that the relationship dynamics would change unfavourably for oneself. It’s alike a regular patron at a shop, who as he or she becomes more predictable for the shop or a service, he or she loses his/her sheen of a valued customer and an intent to facilitate the best of the services also undergoes an impact as it’s assumed the patron shall stay loyal to the brand/product/service irrespectively. Hence, it’s worthwhile to acknowledge that an iota of unpredictable behaviour with service providers keeps them wondering about your next intent! Also, it enables you to have an upper hand when it comes to negotiations and in turn a recipient of better service or product delivery.
The third phase is of stable elevation, in this phase, basis the frequency of interactions and an understanding of the acquaintance, a gradual rise in the overall perception is achieved over a period of time. The phases also lead to a gradual and considerable know-how of the other individual, and it leads to an appreciation for the work or engagements the individual is having with an acquaintance.
The fourth phase is of moderated appreciation, a final phase which formulates and sustains for a considerable phase and a status quo is achieved for the overall perception levels and it remains until there has been a change in the role or power dynamics of the primary individual. This phase also determines the pattern and trends in which the acquaintance shall treat you and the dynamics of respect and ability to get things done are influenced considerably.
Warmth and Competence are the two major influencers of human perceptions when it comes to creating an initial impression and often lasting relationships as they determine how the gradual interaction flows in an overall association. As per the Harvard study, Warmth is a virtue which is more expected in an initial exchange. Warmth is defined as an overall feel good and a positive orientation one is able to make in the whole interaction, it’s a combination of body language, respect, mannerism and an acknowledgment for the other individual. When we correlate it to competence, it’s the capability of an individual to execute or facilitate an expected or anticipated behaviour, which can be perceived power to influence things, perceived perception of knowledge or background which may influence other positively. There are many modes of affiliations, which exist depending on the scenario and social strata one is in.
Often, we meet people of influence or a public figure and wish if we could continue to be being as a friend or stay connected, as we feel the person impressive and we crave for that prolonged connection. However, things do not work as expected and we never see that taking off!  To put this in a perspective, many times successful or influential people are able to gauge a person on the first instance or at first sight and it makes or breaks the perception and it often leads to either a sustainable connect or otherwise. Following are few orientations which one comes across when we come across people who may be of significance at work or in personal lives.
Game over: It is an orientation wherein the other person/individual has gauged and scanned you and determined the degree of positive impact or otherwise the person can be, if aligned as a connection. If the primary acquaintance believes there is no significant impact of being in touch, the connect ends in the first meet itself with no change ever of any orientation with that individual ever.
Grossly indifferent: This is an orientation wherein the affiliation and engagement prospect are uncertain, and the primary acquaintance is grossly indifferent on whether he or she keeps the connect with acquaintance or not. This is like it can or cannot be stage!!!
Just appreciative: A just appreciative phase is one which appreciates your possible good work or background and also there is an orientation which is mutually appreciative, however, would not want to stay associated!
Acknowledging:  This kind of affiliation is one wherein there is no engagement or appreciation prevails of any sort, however there’s an acknowledgment and respect in the overall dynamics and one is open to develop an association given a favourable and mutually beneficial context.
Hopefully optimistic: This is an excited phase and engaging phase of the incumbent and the orientation can be mutually engaging and highly aligned and there is a keen sense of interest for each other’s work, activity, and an equally positive perception.
It is crucial to realize, the above perspectives as it also helps the people around to realise and sense the personality traits of folks whom we acquaint with. These perceptions and perspectives are based on the sensitivity one carries and the latter is a function of how he or she treats people around the ecosystem. These dynamics also determine the credibility and reliability and to what extent the person is assumed to be helpful and easy going. These virtues are especially crucial when it comes to people management, and it is an evolution of your own understanding and expertise in interpersonal skills at work,business, and personal relationships.
About the author: Sahadeo Chaudhary is a Global Professional in Human Resources, Traveller, Blog writer and a Thought Leader. He is an HRCI certified professional with 15 years in the HR domain, a subject matter expert on Global Mobility, HR Processes and Culture Building. He is currently based in Mumbai and has resided in Canada and USA].
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