I’ve been working with a group of pre and early teens and we’ve been talking about perceptions and reality. In our last meeting, I asked if they have ever greeted someone and not been greeted in return. Emphatically – yes!
So I broke them up into small groups and asked them to come up with a list of at least 15 reasons why someone they greeted would not respond.
At first they listed things like this:
- They hate me
- They are mean
- They are rude
- They are a bully
- They are racist
It took awhile for them to start coming up with reasons like this:
- They are deaf
- They are listening to headphones
- They have a disability
- They are on the telephone
- They didn’t hear me
- They don’t speak the same language as me
- They are shy
These were things they didn’t consider:
- They are thinking about something and not paying attention
- They are depressed
- They are angry about something
As our discussion unfolded, I shared two stories about adults in our international compound that have had this experience:
- Both struggled to keep greeting someone that was not responding.
- But both kept at it and eventually got consistent responses, and in one case those repeated greetings led to a delightful conversation.
It is easy to misinterpret someone else’s actions, to assume the worst and to quit trying. And fascinating to consider that most of us would keep at it, if we knew the other person:
- Were deaf or could not speak our language – we’d wave or maybe learn to sign or greet them in their native tongue.
- Had a special need – we’d find a new way to engage.
- Was having a bad day – we’d give them grace and try again.
So what if… They have a negative perception about people of your race or your religion?
- Do you lose anything by greeting them anyway?
- And what if… Your continued kindness challenges their beliefs and changes their behavior?
Now here’s the zinger: The point of this exercise is NOT connection.
It is about developing the critical life skill of problem solving.
Far too often, we make decisions based on how we feel, or what we think we know, instead of really understanding what is happening.
And those uninformed decisions:
- Waste time
- Sapp energy
- Increase division
- Make it more challenging to get to the root of the problem
- Impact our lives, relationships, workplaces, communities and our future
We all benefit from deep dives that examine multiple perspectives.
- When have you made a false assumption?
- What was the impact?
- What did you learn?
Want more? Below are several real examples of how assumptions have impacted problem solving and organizational growth:
The inspirational video below highlights the impact this process has on individuals.
Image Credit: iStock