by Peggy Klaus
“Never judge a book by its cover.” Although an often quoted sentiment and a noble goal, most of us ignore this sensible advice. In reality, we humans tend to be judgmental creatures who constantly evaluate each other on the basis of seemingly superficial details such as facial expressions, manners, vocal quality, clothing, and more. But here’s some good news about this tendency to judge: it’s not your fault! In a recent study, Princeton University psychology professor Alex Todorov found that people respond intuitively to faces so rapidly that the reasoning mind has no time to react. “It appears that we are hard-wired to draw these inferences in a fast, unreflective way,” Todorov explains.
Todorov’s findings don’t come as a big surprise to me. I repeatedly tell my clients—much to their dismay—that they are always being judged and that success in the workplace requires becoming self-aware about how you come across to others. Does this self-awareness include the first thing on a Monday morning when you slink into the office and head to the coffee pot? Absolutely! Your office mates are clicking off judgments about you from the moment you walk in the door. If you come in with a scowl on your face, be assured that they are going to register your unhappiness. Consequently, it’s never too late to make a bad impression, even on someone who already knows and likes you. Most people, however, incorrectly think that being judged is something that only happens during job interviews or performance reviews.
While it’s important to know that you are always being judged, it’s equally critical to examine the flip side and notice when you are drawing conclusions about others which may or may not be based on fact. One of my coaching clients recently told me a story that reinforces the importance of paying attention to your judgments of others.
This particular client is a real extrovert who has no problem schmoozing with her peers. However, there was one co-worker at her new job she steered clear of. During the first few days she was at the company, unlike everyone else, he didn’t go out his way to talk to her. In fact, she found him unresponsive to her attempts to get to know him. She not only concluded that he disliked her, but that he was snubbing her because he felt superior. Many months later, during a three-day company retreat, she learned that he suffered from a difficult stuttering problem. Her original snap judgment had been completely off-base. It wasn’t that he disliked her or that he had a superiority complex—he was simply uncomfortable about his speech disorder and avoided talking with people he didn’t know, for fear they would look down on him for his stutter. After the retreat, they ended up teaming together on a project where his insights and professional knowledge proved to be a huge asset.
Whether a positive impression or a negative one, our intuitive conclusions about others often prove to be wrong. Being overly trustful of a person you’ve just met can be as dangerous as making snap negative assumptions. Taking time to reflect before drawing quick conclusions about others will help you build more compassionate and reality-based relationships, both in and out of the office.
So the next time you encounter someone new in the workplace, use the following tips for considering the bigger picture:
1.Pause, breathe, and take your emotional temperature. You might be judging the person negatively due to your own stress level or anxiety.
2.Ask yourself if the judgment stems from your own emotional baggage. For example, does this person remind you of someone from your past that you liked or disliked?
3.Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and take a moment to think about how the world might look from their perspective—what circumstances, emotions, or stresses might they be dealing with?
4.Think about how you might be coming across to them. What snap judgments might they have made about you based on your actions and appearance?
5.When hiring, remember that both negative and positive snap judgments start the moment you pick up the candidate’s resume. Be aware that your own biases about race, education, gender, or demographics might make you pass over an otherwise well qualified candidate or take a shine to someone for an entirely unfounded reason.
About the Author: For more than a decade Peggy Klaus has provided communication and leadership training programs, keynotes, and executive coaching at leading corporations and organizations worldwide. She is the author of 2 books ( BRAG! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It and The Hard Truth About Soft Skills). www.peggyklaus.com
Training Resource: OUCH! That Sterotype Hurts. In a unique and powerful way, this program shows viewers the impact of stereotypical comments, explores why people remain silent in the face of biased behaviors and gives techniques to speak up and say “Ouch! That Hurts.”