Saturday, December 18, 2004

First Impressions, Assumptions, Judgments

Years ago when I was doing group workshops, very intensive ones, one of the dynamics of these programs was to pair the participants off in a very unique way so they would have a ‘buddy” through the week-long process. You were accountable to your buddy. If you didn’t get all your work done by the end of the day, then your buddy didn’t go to sleep until your homework was completed. And since sleep was at a premium to start off with, let me tell you, you didn’t want to be late with deadlines or you heard about it BIG time! The part I loved was the pairing off process. This is where it got interesting, and, based on feedback at the end of the program, one of the most powerful lessons they learned.

What we did was ask the group to form a circle. They were anywhere from 22 – 30 as we capped the class off at 30. At this point most of the participants didn’t know one another so it was quite quiet, uncomfortable for some (hey this was ‘stretch-beyond-your-comfort-zone 404” never mind 101!). We asked everyone to look around the room at those in the circle….to choose who they thought they’d want to be partnered with (friends or acquaintances were not allowed to become partners), then the second person they’d choose and so on and so on, and when we said “GO!” they should rush to that person and ask if they wanted to be their buddy. Chaos? Yep!

From an observer’s point of view, it was amazing to watch some of the men beeline over to the prettiest women, women to the best looking men, those who had a control-type personality to go over to someone who was much smaller in stature etc etc. Basically people were chosen by how they looked. How could they do anything else when they didn’t know the others, right? The odd one would stand back and look to the eyes of the others in the circle and choose by what they saw shining back. But that was very rare.

At the end of the week, these classmates were like family. They knew everything there was to know about each other and then some, the good, the bad, the hidden secrets, everything. Many of the participants ended up pairing off with their least ‘favourite’ choice initially and were angry about it to start off with. Bottom line was, each person in the room was there to support the others and to be supported by them through the process. They all said (not almost all, but all) how lucky they were to be partnered with the best buddy in the world… they should have looked past the surface to the person beneath before judging who they might be.

So why am I writing about this? How many meet someone for a brief meeting, and judge that they don’t want to meet again? How can one possibly know who a person is after speaking to them for only 10 minutes, an hour? I’m not talking about your intuitive feelings where you sense your safety is at stake. I’m talking about not talking to someone because they’re not dressed well or aren’t beautiful or handsome. Whether or not they have the perfect physique or a disability doesn’t matter. That’s not who the person is. A person isn’t their disability. They are a person WITH a disability. Some are visible, some are hidden.

Someone can be the best groomed, most with-it, business-like person in the world who looks intelligent, can read but doesn’t and is basically a functional illiterate. That person might get by on looks alone. But can you have a conversation and be stimulated by that for long? A person might struggle with all sorts of challenges, but if they don’t give up, show courage and strength, wouldn’t you want to get to know that person?

How can you find their hidden mischievous streak, warped sense of humour, keen intelligence if you don’t give them the time of day and truly get to know who they are?

One of the things I often hear from clients is how I see and bring out the best in people. Those ‘lost causes who are inherited in an organization’ who turn around and strive for more. If I see what shines in a person and help them see it as well, then eventually others will glimpse at it too. When I walk on a floor, everyone who knows me knows I will want to hear their victories and what they’re happy with in their lives, well after our contracted period is over. They know I celebrate knowing them, having worked with them and having earned their trust for them to share the deep-downs with me. I respect them, see their talents, strengths and love the person I see, as a whole person, not just a piece here and there.

So next time you walk by a stranger and might take a moment to smile at him/her, remember it’s telling them you value them for being and for taking a moment to share a second of your time with them. And when you see yourself judging because someone you meet isn’t perfect at first sight, take a moment to have a deeper insight. You might never know what you’re missing but on the other hand, taking the blinders off and seeing people three dimensionally will teach you a whole lot more, not only about them but you as well.

Best on another snowy day : )
Donna Karlin

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