It is amazing how our assumptions limit us every day. I went to a great business networking event where individuals have 45 seconds to describe their businesses. One polished professional talked about his business which hauls junk from a site — tripled his business in past few years. I was impressed with his business skills during these tough times.
When we had an opportunity to chat afterwards, I learned that is just part of his story. He started the trash hauling business “to give some young men good jobs.” So he’s a mentor in addition to being an entrepreneur. Then he told me that he and his wife do training on writing clear documents for the Federal government. Then he mentioned that he also has written and published science fiction. Whoa. How much farther from my initial assumptions about his work would he take me — once we spent time learning about each other.
I also talked with a business leader who is a respected trainer. I learned that his father was the youngest of eight and his mother the youngest of 22. Can you imagine his family reunions! That is a piece of his personal culture that you would not know just by looking at him. His lens for viewing the world is very different than someone who was an only child with few relatives. Yet people rarely know that aspect of his personal story. When we talked about the importance of moving beyond assumptions, he said, “You are preaching to the choir. People make lots of assumptions about me based solely on what I look like” — a tall African-American man.
To really understand someone — their experiences, their skills, their perspectives — we need to move beyond snap judgments and assumptions. Otherwise, we lose out on the valuable connections we can make and the wisdom they can share. We learn a fraction of the lessons we could.