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a blog by Don R. Crawley

Keynote Speaker on
IT Customer Service and Compassion

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Appearances can be deceiving. We’ve talked about the danger of assuming a level of knowledge. It’s also dangerous to make assumptions about people based on their appearance. We can make bad decisions by judging others based on how they look.

Judging Others Can Lead to Mistaken Perceptions

My stepdaughter Ellie has a Bachelor of Science degree in Global Wine Studies from Central Washington University, right in the heart of Washington wine country. She has studied viticulture and the business of wine. She knows wine better than nearly anyone I know. She’s smart, thoughtful, and articulate. When she was in her early 20s, she was also very cute. I always enjoyed going out to dinner with her, especially to really nice restaurants. The wine steward or waiter would come to the table to get our wine order and would always come to me. After all, I’m the older, gray-haired guy who looks like he would know something about wine. I enjoy wine, but am not that knowledgeable about it. I would always have them talk to Ellie. You could see it in their faces. They’d take one look at Ellie and immediately assume she was going to order a white zinfandel. Then, Ellie would start talking with them about soil conditions and regional weather during a particular vintage. She would ask intelligent, probing questions about the wine list and you could see a perplexed look on the faces of many of the wine stewards. They were judging her based on the way Ellie looked; assumptions that were not true.

My friend and fellow speaker Lisa Copeland is very feminine in her appearance and demeanor. One time, she told me she was going to Cheyenne, Wyoming on business. I told her I was envious because Union Pacific Railroad’s steam operations were based in Cheyenne and I would love to be able to visit it and see their giant steam locomotives. I added that I knew she wouldn’t be interested in that sort of thing. She corrected me and explained that she was indeed interested in steam locomotives. I made an assumption, based on her appearance, that she wouldn’t be interested in such things. I was wrong.

Just because someone is older doesn’t mean they’re not technically savvy. Just because someone is younger doesn’t mean they are. Just because someone looks like the stereotype of a geek doesn’t mean they are a geek. Just because someone doesn’t look like a geek doesn’t mean they aren’t. Don’t try to understand people based on how they look. Work to understand people based on who they are.

Look, we all make assumptions about people and places based on appearance. To an extent, that’s probably a good thing. It helps keep us out of trouble, but it can also mislead us. Certainly, use your eyes for a first impression. Then, ask questions and use your ears to get to the truth and let that be your lasting impression.

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