Have you ever looked at someone who was covered in tattoos and thought, “Hmm…I bet they’ve seen their fair share of bar fights,” yet when you talked to them, you discovered that they’d be the last person involved in an altercation? Or maybe you’ve seen someone well-dressed, stepping out of a limo, and assumed that they were incredibly wealthy, only to later find out you were dead wrong? I found myself in this type of situation not that long ago.
I was giving a speech for an association of accountants and bookkeepers, and I went in assuming that this group was going to be pretty introverted because they’re not really front end people. Not that that’s a bad thing, I know many introverted people, but what I expected was an audience full of number-crunching professionals who were likely to be quiet and maybe even a little closed off.
After my presentation, one of the attendees, came up to me and said, “That was amazing! Can I give you a hug?” I admit, I got the most stupid grin on my face because I’m all about the hug, but I was also grinning because I’d instantly realized that I had pegged this crowd all wrong.
People are just people. We don’t always know what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, what they’ve experienced in the past, or—as in my case—what they’re going to do. And when we have preconceived notions, we do everyone a disservice.
Creating judgments or generalizations short-changes those you critique because you treat them according to what you “think” you know about them, even if it’s wrong. You’re also short-changing yourself in the process because you fail to see the entirety of the person, the person that exists beyond whatever story you’ve created in your mind.
You see it all the time in news stories posted on social media. Very few details may be provided in a story, and yet there are hundreds of comments chastising or criticizing someone in the story based solely on assumptions, not fact. What if that was you or one of your family members or friends everyone was judging? How would that make you feel?
If you’re in business, remember this when a customer walks into your store or calls you up on the phone. You may think you know a little bit about them based solely on how they look or their profession or the way they talk, but what if your assumptions are off-base? What if you treat them one way because you think of them a certain way and you wind up being so off-base that you actually offend them?
While it’s true that certain traits are commonly found in certain people based on what they do for a living, the hobbies they have, and the things they enjoy, the reality is that you can’t fit everyone in a box. Each person still has characteristics unique to him or her, and no one is exactly as you imagine or expect them to be.
The more you keep this in the front of your mind, the more you’ll start treating each person you meet as an individual. The less likely you’ll make a generalization that turns out to be incorrect. People are just people and it would be healthiest to treat them as such.