16 Oct 2008

Bad assumptions, part 1: “NO CELL PHONES IN THE LIBRARY”

Posted by paulandrew

Just yesterday I was on the receiving of someone’s ire. I didn’t think it was warranted. It got me thinking about assumptions and judgment.

I’m in the library. I flip open my phone to check my schedule when suddenly a call comes in. Normally my phone would give me the choice of taking the call or ignoring it, but because I had just happened to open the phone, the call automatically picks up. Damn.

So now I have a choice: I hang up on a colleague, or I answer the call and tell her that I’ll call her right back. So I decide to answer the call and about three seconds after I say “Hello?” a librarian comes over, red in the face, shoots me a look that could kill and through gritted teeth grunts “NO CELL PHONES IN THE LIBRARY.” The velocity she comes at me with is startling. Fortunately she goes away before my “fight or flight response” fully kicks in. I tell my colleague that I’m in the library and I’ll call her right back.

Look, I know that there is a no cell phones rule in the library. I am aware of this. But why does the librarian need to get so excited about this? Had she waited another five seconds she would’ve heard me telling my colleague that I was in the library and I needed to call her back. But I’m guessing she assumes that I had bad intent–that I was either unaware or unconcerned of the library’s cell phone policy. Her outburst was jarring — is she aware of the impact that her intensity has on other people?

Being on the receiving side of such intensity got me thinking about myself. Do I do this to other people? Am I even aware of it? And if I do, what can I do to manage my own intensity?

I think one powerful way to hit all of his intensity off before it even starts is to be very careful about making assumptions about other people–especially bad ones. The road forward is to give the benefit of the doubt upfront, be curious and take a moment to find out the other person’s situation, and then act accordingly.

Quick negative judgments are harmful and unnecessary–we can do better.

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