Let’s face it; we all have a tendency to make assumptions from time to time, about people and about situations. Our assumptions come from all sorts of things – our experiences, other people’s experiences, the media, current jokes, hearsay, even films and books.
Let me share a couple of personal examples. When I was at school, my friend Sarah’s older brother was called Simon. Simon was a bully, a verbal bully, and made life tough for many of us for a couple of terms. That was a long, long time ago, and yet guess what happens every time I’m introduced to someone called Simon? My insides do a strange little ‘flip’ and I feel sick inside. So it seems that subconsciously I’m expecting everyone called Simon to be a bully, because it happened once.
Another situation involved a throwaway remark, and I still have no idea how this came about. Sat in a traffic jam one day, the car beside me (a red BMW) was pumping outwhat my Mum used to call ‘thump thump’ music – you could only hear the bass, and it was mighty loud!
I turned to my friend who was sat beside me and said (pointing to the car), ‘drug dealers’, in a joking way.
Fast forward six months and I’m parking up in Asda in Taunton, with my sister and her two kids in the car. As we pull in next to (you guessed it) a red BMW, my 8 year old niece says, ‘look Aunty Liz, a drug dealer’.
I have no idea how the myth travelled so far, but it taught me about the danger of flippant remarks.
I often hear these sorts of comments being bandied around workplaces,
‘the new bloke is awful apparently’
‘she’s always off sick’
‘there’s no point even asking, you can’t change things’
‘it’s all about cost cutting’
and I ask, ‘where’s the evidence?’
We need to 1. be aware that we make assumptions, and that we do have some prejudices and stereotypes, and 2. challenge those assumptions by asking questions and listening.