Because we are people (and tend to rush to judgment), our “first impressions” often label those we encounter as being either “good” or “bad” (before we take the time to validate our assumptions). While we often must act quickly, if we want to develop long-lasting or meaningful relationships we must take time to learn about others – about why they think, act and respond as they do rather than basing our opinions ONLY on what we see being accomplished – if we are to accept (or at least understand) people “as they are” rather than force them to become “what we would wish them to be.” Four things we should consciously (and intentionally) avoid when meeting people for the first time (as our initial impressions and perceptions are established) would include:
Investigate fully before making a judgement rather than allowing unfounded perceptions or “surface-driven” first thoughts to form your baseline from which all other actions, thoughts or decisions are built. Working with a small machine shop that was struggling financially, a business owner reported that he would like all his employees to be like the 76-year old machinist that came back to work after retiring for a couple of years. He cited the man’s loyalty and experience-based leadership – his ability to set an example for those working with him. When asked, employees said that working with this “poor man” reinforced that they should jump at the first job opportunity that came along because they did not want to end up working until they were 76 because retirement was no more than a dream. A “first impression” could have been established by listening to either the owner or the employees but looking into the “rest of the story” revealed an unconsidered truth. The 76-year old knew what the owner thought and was pretty sure what his peers thought about his working but that both were wrong. He stated (because someone had asked) that “if they knew my wife they would know why I like coming to work!” Often our perceptions taint our thinking and we make decisions based on inaccurate (or untrue) information. Always learn all the facts before making a judgment.
Before acting, clarify some of the “whys” before rushing to judgement on what was done (or not done) as anticipated. Many years ago, my wife and kindergarten son were engaged in a heated discussion when I arrived home from work. He found himself in trouble at home after going to the principal’s office for hitting another child with leaves on his first day of school. My wife could not understand why he was sent to the office for hitting another child with leaves and he did not understand why she kept asking him the same question after he had clearly and concisely answered her inquiry with a specific and detailed response. She was trying to extract an answer based on the information she had been provided – that he had hit someone with leaves and been sent to the office to explain. He was answering her questions without offering any more information than asked – that he had hit someone with leaves and did not understand why he had been addressed. I looked at my son and said, “How big of a stick were the leaves on?” He quit crying and said “only an inch or so but nobody ASKED me about the stick!” We often lose sight of where we are going because we so focus on what we think we know to be right. Never form an opinion without first thinking about all the things that COULD BE rather than simply focusing upon what we think IS or has been in the past. Acting on available information without asking for expansion or seeking clarification can often lead to disaster.
Do not assume to know what others are thinking or limit what they could contribute by inserting personal biases into their lives or extending your own limitations into their potential. One of the most critical components within any relationship is to identify both strengths and weaknesses – maximizing the positive contributions while limiting those that might be more detrimental. When asked, “What is the purpose of your job, an employee told me it was “…to bring to fruition the dreams of the owner.” While this answer did nothing to define job responsibilities, it DID speak volumes to the owner about the employee’s understanding of his role in the company. After reading that one response the employer started to think differently about his workforce, including them in decisions because they were much more invested in their future than he had previously thought. In thinking that his employees “did only what they were told” rather than believing they could “contribute positively to his dream,” the owner had stifled the expression of improvements his staff could have made. By listening to their suggestions – regardless of what he thought they might be able to contribute – his company began to grow and prosper exponentially. Though many of us fight hard to “do things our way” and overlay that “way” upon those we work with, whenever we listen to others we find their contributions can be meaningful IF ONLY we allow them to express their thoughts, learn through failure and feel safe to grow.
Think before acting – then act before your thinking paralyzes you. Many individuals tend to shoot before aiming – often prior to even establishing a target – then spend countless hours repairing the damage they may have done through their rash actions. While “things” can often be repaired or replaced when damaged by actions that disregard potential consequences initiates failure, PEOPLE tend to “scar” more easily and “fail to forget” more than they could ever learn from criticism (be it gentle OR relentless). Forming a “first impression” is normal and natural BUT refusing to move beyond that baseline after learning more about a person, place or situation creates the basis for ongoing disappointment, frustration and failure.