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Why do you remember good things about bad relationships?

When we have experiences, our brain filters out a lot of the information we receive because it's too much to process. Logically, it would make sense that you’d rate an experience based on how you felt on average, but this isn’t the case. We rate experiences based on their best parts, their worst parts and their endings, which skews the way we remember them.




Say you have friend A and friend B. Friend A is about a six overall in how they act, and friend B is a three for most of the time but has a peak of an eight and an end of an eight with an average of a four. For example, friend A is reasonably consistent and nice, and friend B is kind of mean, but the last time you saw them they took you out for a five star meal and one time you went with their family on holiday. You might think friend A would be rated higher by people for their overall score, but what actually happens is they rate friend B higher overall.


This principle extends to experiences in general. You can see an example below of an experiment run on two patients at a hospital where the peaks and ends were compared against time and pain intensity. Even though Patient be experienced more pain overall, the end of the experience was a one and they rated the experience lower overall.




How can you use Peak-end coding to build communities?


The above is a simplified explanation of the Peak-end rule discovered by Barbara Fredrickson and Daniel Kahneman. It’s worth mentioning that as we get further away from memories, the less we remember them clearly and can be skewed by other emotions and factors.


Overall time will cause people to think more neutrally about peaks (both positive and negative), but emotions can create fantasies in memory. For example, think about a bad relationship. If you’re lonely enough, your brain might start to remember the one thing that was a nine about a person who was a two if the ending was a long time ago.


An experience can be anything from a team meeting to a holiday and there can be micro experiences within larger experiences, and you need to establish how close you want to look when determining the peak and end of an experience.


Three new ideas to incorporate Peak-end coding in a hybrid world?


To build a positive workplace community, you need people to bond. In a hybrid world, this can be difficult. It’s difficult to get people to remember experiences if there’s nothing to remind them of how good it was. It’s also harder to create good endings and peaks online - but it is possible.


Technology and photography enables Peak-end coding to be utilised in experiences. This is because you can capture the best parts of the experience for positive memory recall that outlasts the test of time. What are some ways you can do this?


  • Save shoutouts for the end of meetings and make people feel good right before they jump off a call

  • If there’s a quiz or test incorporated in a virtual interview or assessment, send back results to high scorers/ winners

  • Show a moving video at the end of a virtual experience to create a high ending and send it to employees after

The end of this post?


I'll leave you with an embarrassing thing that happened in my life to end this on a high note. I think I need to switch gyms. Long story short my gym manager's name is Kay and I was talking to him and instead of saying the word 'okay' I said 'o' and pointed to him. I've never seen anyone lose respect for me so quickly. Can't go back there.


Next week we’ll be exploring how to use Mementos to improve your workplace community engagement. If you liked this, make sure to follow me on Linkedin to learn more about interesting topics I’ve been inspired by.


Thanks to Denise Hampson for writing original blog posts on memory design and to Sympa Future of HR event for inspiring me to look into workplace communities in the first place.


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