Ever meet someone and feel instantly put off by them? Someone who, for no apparent reason, just got on your nerves? Over time, perhaps you had a chance to get better acquainted, and you realized your initial reaction was inaccurate – that this person was, in fact, likeable.
What causes us to make those snap judgments about others? Mostly, it’s subconscious. For me, it’s about sensing a style difference that seems threatening in some way.
Stylistically, I may be a little bit of a control freak. I like structure, organization and clear plans. When I encounter someone who’s more free-spirited and prefers to operate without a binding plan, I get a little queasy. That’s not an exaggeration – I have a visceral reaction to situations that don’t have forethought put into them. I have actual nightmares about finding myself wandering aimlessly with no direction…
Lest you think I’m neurotic, let me assure you that I recognize this and cope with it quite well (most of the time). I’m even capable – with advance notice, preferably – of winging it. And I’ve learned that others can be successful, content and even at their best without a restrictive schedule, cumbersome plan or outwardly apparent organization.
Notice, please, that I said “I’ve learned.” Left to my own gut reactions and sub-conscious triggers, I would go through life harshly judging anyone who was less “together” than me. I’d avoid working with people who “go with the flow.” I’d demand rigor.
By doing so, I’d severely limit my own opportunities. I would have missed out on friendships and experiences I treasure. I’d be unable to enjoy the occasional spontaneous getaways my husband suggests. I’d devalue and be deprived of incredible collaborations with colleagues who approach their work differently.
In my early career, I did miss out. I was dismissive of co-workers and direct reports who I viewed as less disciplined, less serious and less committed. I’m ashamed now to admit that I made those assessments based merely on a style difference. Rather than looking at their contributions and results, I over-emphasized my attention on their style.
I can vividly remember a first encounter with one co-worker. We were attending a full staff meeting of 50+ people, and she was on the agenda to present information. As she walked in, right at the last minute, she said, lightheartedly, “I guess I better figure out what I’m gonna say since I’m first on the agenda.” My judgment was swift, harsh and long-lasting. Clearly, I thought, this was someone I couldn’t respect or trust…
How wrong I was in that moment, and in the many subsequent opportunities I had to learn from this brilliant and inspirational co-worker. I missed out because I deemed her style to be unacceptable, too different, not for me. I did not dignify her because I was too busy judging her.
Having learned not to let this particular style difference lead me astray about people, I’m now checking myself when I feel any instant reactions to new people I encounter. I may not “get” someone at first, but I know now that there’s more to it than that. Looking for the unique value of each individual – regardless of style – prevents me from missing out the way I used to.
This blog post was originally published on June 15, 2013 and was selected for the CONNECT! Community’s series on dignifying others. As a leader, it’s imperative to understand why and how to dignify every other person. Learn more about the impact of dignifying others and how you can CONNECT2Lead. And be sure to subscribe to the CONNECT2Lead Blog for weekly tips and techniques on leading with a people first approach.