If I walk into a meeting, or a function, my eyes move around the room with android-like precision, judging and assessing everyone in the room. Who is wearing what kind of suit, how do their clothes fit them, what kind of shoes are they wearing, and what condition are they in, what kind of watch are they wearing? Are they over-weight, thin, tall, short, appropriately dressed for the occasion? Do they look “put together” or like they just rolled out of bed?
Over the years I have come to recognize that I do this, but fortunately, what I have also learned over the years is to keep my opinions to myself, which I would have to admit, was not always the case.
There was a time where if I was attending that same function with a friend or colleague, I would have been sharing my assessments in great and vivid detail with that person throughout the evening. “Can you believe that guys pants, they must be four inches off the ground.” “Do you think he can feel the draft on his ankles when he goes outside?” “Doesn’t he own a mirror?”
You get the picture.
Unfortunately, as much as I realize that I do this, I still do it, but as I said, it is not a conscious decision that I make, it really is like a reflex, and it is not a trait that I am proud of, in any way. I wish I could actively turn it off.
Case in point . . .
I was attending one of the first meetings of the leadership group that I have mentioned before. It has people from all walks of life, different age groups, etc., and at that time, I had not met all of the members.
When I first entered the room that evening, I happen to notice a woman, quite a bit older, over-weight, and with a distinct food stain on the upper portion of her blouse, and of course, I had an immediate opinion about that – enough said.
She ended up seated next to me and there came a point in the evening when we needed to share something specific with the person next to us, and solicit their feedback on that point, and when this was first announced, my immediate reaction was one of disappointment that my partner for this exercise was my food stained friend from earlier in the evening. What was she going to be able to contribute to me?
I know, what an arrogant thing to think.
It gets worse.
She invited me to go first, and as instructed, I shared my situation with her. She listened intently to me until I was finished, and then to my great surprise, she gave me some of the most insightful and beneficial feedback that I have ever received from another individual.
Needless to say, I felt like a colossal ass, and that could be the end of that, but what it really made me realize in that moment was the fact that by drawing the initial judgments that I do of people, from time to time, based solely on my first visual impression of them, I was missing out on the opportunity for others to contribute to me.
That may sound like a selfish conclusion, but I don’t mean it that way. Obviously, there are greater things at stake here – missed friendships, relationships, etc.. Things that I could in turn contribute to that person. All true, but my point is that I did not initially think that they had anything to contribute to me, and by drawing that conclusion, I was the person who was missing out.
It was an embarrassing reminder of the importance and value of people, all people. And that one chance encounter changed my outlook forever.
It’s really quite amazing what can happen when you openly share yourself with others, and in so doing, allow them to contribute to you. The possibilities are endless.