The danger of jumping to conclusions!

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I could kick myself in the rear end. And still might.

You see, having not heard from “Bob” and “Kerry” for a long time left me feeling ignored and disrespected, especially since I had them and their families over for dinner where they both made valuable, profitable business connections. I really felt good about that and expected nothing in return, not even a thanks. For me, there’re few things more gratifying than connecting folks.

But many months transpired since then and despite numerous emails (and phone calls) they never responded to me when I needed their help in other activities I’d planned. And what was more troubling was that on separate occasions when I encountered them publicly I was treated like a complete stranger. Feeling ticked and used, I vowed to erase them from my network.

And then I got some news that led me to conclude that I deserved a serious behind kicking.

You see “Bob” was dealing with a cancer diagnosis and “Kerry” had encountered some challenging career and family issues. Consequently they both had been out of pocket to all except their immediate families. When I got this news I felt terrible, terribly selfish, and at a loss for words in the same way I felt years ago when I felt being racially profiled by a service worker who, I found out later when complaining to the store manager, had a disability that impacted her behavior.

Far too often there’s a human tendency to jump to conclusions when we perceive unfair treatment. We all do it. Human nature? Who really knows? But jumping to conclusions about someone, only to find that you didn’t have the whole story, or were dead wrong, can be unnerving, downright embarrassing. On the other hand, when someone jumps to an unfounded negative conclusion about us, we often seethe inside. So this jumping to conclusions tendency swings both ways.

Now another danger in jumping to conclusions after we feel that we’ve been “dissed,” is to judge all future interaction with that person – or persons – through the narrow lens of that experience. The “priming effect” – the unconscious tendency to respond to something based on expectations created by a previous experience or association – is how that’s defined. What follows often is “confirmation bias,” the tendency to seek information that confirms pre-existing beliefs or assumptions. With the latter, we await reasons to think or say, “I told you so!”

In 2009 the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a fabulous TED talk called “The Danger of a Single Story.” It was about what happens when complex human beings and situations are reduced to a single narrative: when Africans, for example, are treated solely as pitiable poor, starving victims with flies on their faces. Her point was that each individual life contains a heterogeneous compilation of stories. If you reduce people to one, you’re taking away their humanity.

So the next time someone takes an unusually long period of time to return your call or email, cannot remember your name, treats you like a stranger, fails to provide you with great customer service, cut them some slack, give them the benefit of the doubt and ask yourself, “what else could be going on in that person’s life that may explain his/her behavior? What’s the danger of the single story here? “

At the end of the day, when a slight is perceived, some folks will shoot first and ask questions later. Others will suspend judgment, set aside preconceived notions and wait until all the facts are in before arriving at a conclusion.

Yes, I can kick myself in the real end. And still might.

© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer, story teller and senior associate with Diversity Wealth. He is also a member of the Cross Cultural Academy, the founder of the Global Diversity Consortium, a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The Atlanta Business Journal and the American Diversity Report. He can be reached at wwhoward3@gmail.com

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