August 6, 2008

Avoiding Snap Judgments

Posted in Careers tagged , at 1:08 am by Lindsay

Some time ago, I was at an evening social gathering (read: house party) with my roommates.  We knew very few people there, but made a point to make the rounds and acquaint ourselves with those in attendance.  One such person, let’s call him Steve, was very receptive to our introduction and quickly began a conversation with us.  We were about forty five seconds into our exchange with Steve when the first snap judgment popped out of his mouth.  When one roommate told him she was from Kansas his immediate reply was, “Are you a farmer?”

She explained that she was actually from Kansas City, and that no, she was not nor had ever been a farmer.  With that he was off on his next topic.  He told us he’d guess where each of us had gone to college, knowing that we were recent graduates.  He turned to me and said “Florida State, right?  You were the girl passed out next to the keg.”  (Count along with me – snap judgment tally: two and three)  Ignoring my roommates who were trying to explain that I was perhaps the girl least likely to be in that position, he turned to my other roommate, squinted and said, “Harvard?”  Oh, Steve. 

Snap judgments shape our interactions with others.  When meeting a client or business associate for the first, second, or even third time, the conclusions we piece together will dictate how we treat them, what words to use, which subjects we bring up, and our general mood and approach.  Most importantly, others will be able to infer how we view them by the way we act towards them.  Even if Steve hadn’t been so forthcoming with his opinions, I would have known he viewed me as “the party girl”.  The intellectual girl-next-door in me wouldn’t have responded positively.

Realistically, we’re all guilty of making snap judgments, even though we’re usually smart enough not to blurt them out the second they enter our minds like our good friend Steve.  And to a point, they can be efficiency tools, used to make quick decisions when the situation does not warrant careful consideration.  Many decisions have to be made on the fly, and snap judgments may be the only information we have. 

But they can also be harmful, especially in the business world where it’s essential to build trust and create relationships.  A hasty judgment will put others on the defense.  They’ll perceive a lack of effort to get to know them and their needs.  It will make them resistant to everything you say and do, getting you nowhere.

Take time to get to know people.  Be hesitant to form an idea of a person with only a few details to work with.  And that ever popular adage, don’t assume.

I think a viewing of The Philadelphia Story, one of my favorite films, is in order for Steve.  I’d tell him to pay special attention when Katherine Hepburn declares,

“The time to make up your mind about people is never.”