When you first meet someone, you make assumptions about them. Everyone does it. In fact, you make those assumptions before you meet them - when you’re emailing, speaking on the phone, or reviewing their CV. We all do this based on our perceptions, our experiences, our beliefs, and our ideas. We form a picture in our minds about people. These are our unconscious biases.
But what if you’re making the wrong assumptions about someone? Could this damage your relationship with them? Could it affect your business? Could it have an impact on the people you recruit? For business resilience, you need different types of people in an organisation, and to sell to different types of people, you need different perspectives to understand your potential market.
We are naturally drawn to people who remind us of ourselves. We feel more comfortable with people who are like us. So, if we don’t think about that, and the impact it has on our working relationships, we can fall into the trap of surrounding ourselves with only people who are like us and missing out on valuable input and ideas. Here are some suggestions for how you can overcome those assumptions and instinctive thoughts in your mind.
Avoid the Stereotypes
When you meet people for the first time, do you immediately ask about their family? This might seem innocent, but it’s about how you ask those questions. If you ask a man about his wife and children, or a woman about her husband, you are assuming things about those people that might not be true. This is also the case if you meet someone and make an assumption based on how they are dressed. Or you might receive an email and make an assumption about someone’s name. Or it could be that you arrange a meeting at a venue that is inaccessible by wheelchair. If you organise an important meeting on a date that is an important religious festival for some people, you could cause someone to feel offended or excluded. These are some of the ways in which we easily fall into stereotypes. We assume things about people, and this is based on our perspectives. It requires active effort to open your thinking to different types of people. Think beyond the stereotypes and keep reminding yourself that everyone is different.
Mind Your Language
What might seem perfectly fine to you can easily cause offence to others. If you address a room of people as ‘gentlemen’, ‘guys’ or ‘ladies and gentlemen’, you are making assumptions. If you swear or use jargon, you are assuming that people are comfortable with those words. What might seem like just a joke or banter to you, could be words that cause distress to someone else. To avoid making assumptions about what people are happy with, think about how you can be more inclusive in your use of language. If you’re not sure how to address someone, ask them what they are comfortable with.
It’s Not All About You
If you do make those assumptions, you might be given feedback that you weren’t expecting. It could be that a comment that seemed perfectly acceptable to you actually caused offence, distress or annoyance for someone else. This can be down to their gender, race, personality, culture and so many other factors that make us different. No one likes to be told they haven’t behaved perfectly, but there is no need to react defensively if you are given feedback. Be calm, listen and try to understand the other person’s perspective.
This is not about you, it’s about how your behaviour, words and language are perceived by others and it’s the same principle if you find yourself feeling offended or excluded by someone’s behaviour. Think about how you can calmly address the situation with that person and work together on a solution.
Everyone is different, and if we don’t consider that, it could have a huge impact on our work. We could offend someone in our teams, we could miss recruiting a fantastic candidate, or we could seriously affect a working relationship with a customer. If we give it some thought and think about the different aspects of the assumptions we make, we can create more inclusive workplaces. We can build stronger relationships with people based on mutual respect.
If this has got you thinking about how you can improve on your perceptions about people, and how your team can benefit too, have a look at our Challenge Your Assumptions training course.