Perception and Reality are Often Poles Apart
At a non-profit organization, I work with two members of the support staff. Sally and Diane (names and context changed for anonymity) joined the organization five months ago and report to the branch manager.
Sally is young, energetic and talks loudly; however, she lacks initiative, has difficulty following-up on assignments and needs constant reminders. Diane is experienced, thorough at work and gets her assignments done promptly; she is quiet and has an introverted personality.
Sally recently had an opportunity to coordinate the visit of the Executive Director of the non-profit organization. The executive was impressed with Sally’s abilities and asked the branch manager to give Sally a raise with a promotion. The branch manager, who had not spent a lot of time with Sally, shared this initial assessment on Sally and agreed.
Having interacted with Sally and Diane extensively, I considered Sally’s promotion unfortunate. Diane was more deserving of promotion for her hard work, initiative and promise for advancement.
Learn to Look Beyond the Surface
Our first impressions are usually deceptive and incomplete. We tend to judge people based on their appearance, their mannerisms (smile, handshake, liveliness, etc.) and their tone. However, reality runs deeper than what is visible at the surface.
- Know what you are looking for. Develop evaluation criteria and write them down. For instance, assume you are looking for a project manager to lead a new product development. Write down what skills and attributes a good project manager should possess. What should be the ideal background? Would you like the candidate to have had experience leading projects of similar size and scope? Did the projects complete on-time and within assigned budgets?
- Do not judge people because you share common characteristics. An example: A hiring manager I worked with sometime ago brought a candidate onsite just because the candidate’s resume listed membership in the manager’s favorite charitable group. None of the other interviewers was impressed with the candidate’s leadership skills (among other attributes). The hiring manager realized his mistake and remarked, “I thought everybody that participated in [activity] with [charitable group’s name] was a natural leader.”
- Check the opinions of others who may have had different perspectives in other contexts. For instance, in job interviewing, talk to all the references that a candidate provided and ask specific questions about the candidate. Talk to independent references wherever available. In particular, seek objective people who have long experience working with the candidate.
As professionals, we are often required to judge job candidates based on an hour of interviewing or induct team members based on minimal acquaintances. Hence, judging people for their talent and personality is a vital skill for managers. To discover others, we need to go beyond perceptions and learn more about their experiences, thoughts and actions to understand them better.
Question: Do you have interesting stories about judging people from perceptions? Please share them in the comments section.