When you meet someone for the first time, you make assumptions about them. It's something that everyone does. In fact, you make those assumptions before meeting them - when you email, call, or review their resume. This is something we all do based on our perceptions, experiences, beliefs, and ideas. In our minds, we form an image of people. These are our unintentional biases.
But what if you're assuming the wrong thing about someone? Could this have an impact on your relationship with them? Could it have an impact on your business? Could this have an effect on the people you hire? Different types of people are required in an organisation for business resilience, and different perspectives are required to understand your potential market when selling to different types of people.
People who remind us of ourselves are naturally appealing to us. We feel more at ease with people who are similar to us. So, if we don't consider this and its impact on our working relationships, we may fall into the trap of surrounding ourselves with only people who are similar to us, missing out on valuable input and ideas. Here are some ideas to help you overcome your mental assumptions and instinctive thoughts.
Do you immediately inquire about someone's family when you meet them for the first time? This may appear innocuous, but it is all about how you ask those questions. When you ask a man about his wife and children, or a woman about her husband, you are making assumptions about those people that may or may not be correct. This is also true if you meet someone and form an opinion about them based on how they are dressed. Or you might get an email and make a guess about someone's name. Alternatively, you could arrange a meeting in a location that is inaccessible by wheelchair. If you schedule an important meeting on a date when some people observe a religious festival, you may offend or exclude someone. These are some of the ways we can easily become stereotyped. We make assumptions about people based on our experiences. It takes active effort to broaden your thinking to include different types of people. Think outside the box and keep reminding yourself that everyone is unique.
Take Care of Your Language
What appears to you to be perfectly fine can easily offend others. You are making assumptions when you address a group of people as 'gentlemen,' 'guys,' or 'ladies and gentlemen.' If you swear or use jargon, you're assuming that people understand what you're saying. What appears to you as harmless banter or a joke could be words that cause distress to someone else. Consider how you can be more inclusive in your use of language to avoid making assumptions about what people are happy with. If you're not sure how to address someone, ask them how they prefer to be addressed.
It Isn't Just About You
If you do make those assumptions, you might receive unexpected feedback. It's possible that a comment that seemed perfectly acceptable to you offended, distressed, or irritated someone else. This can be attributed to their gender, race, personality, culture, and a variety of other factors that distinguish us. No one enjoys being told they haven't behaved perfectly, but there's no need to react defensively when given feedback. Stay calm, listen, and try to understand the other person's point of view.
This isn't about you; it's about how your actions, words, and language are perceived by others. The same principle applies if you find yourself offended or excluded by someone else's actions. Consider how you can approach the situation calmly with that person and collaborate on a solution.
Everyone is unique, and ignoring this fact could have a significant impact on our work. We could offend someone on our teams, miss out on a fantastic candidate, or seriously harm a working relationship with a customer. We can create more inclusive workplaces if we give it some thought and consider the various aspects of the assumptions we make. We can strengthen our relationships with others by practising mutual respect.