“I hate dealing with Joe; he never remembers anything I tell him.” (“Oh… you didn’t know that Joe has hearing loss in his left ear?”)
“Jane always looks so mad; she’s just unpleasant to deal with.” (“I guess you hadn’t heard; Jane’s husband has terminal cancer.”)
“Carmen is pretty rude. Do you know she’s the only team member who didn’t come to the baby shower the team hosted for me?” (“Maybe you didn’t know this but Carmen had a miscarriage last year; she finds it difficult to attend baby showers.”)
Ah yes. Who among us doesn’t jump to conclusions based on an interaction (or several) with another person? We use mental shorthand to quickly categorize someone’s behavior and then we toss Joe, Jane and Carmen into one of the filing cabinets in our brain that we’ve labeled –“the difficult one” – the unfriendly one” – “the bitch.” Task completed, they’re neatly labeled, and we decide that’s all we need to know about them.
But in the workplace further problems arise when we neglect to review and examine those categorizations down the road. When a manager, co-worker or (heaven forbid) an HR professional keeps an employee in one of those file drawers and doesn’t attempt to gather more data or develop greater understanding.
I’ve known people who’ve worked together for over a decade who still rely on initial cataloging (and assumptions) from 2010. This is disappointing amongst peers but downright damaging and destructive when it occurs with managers or HR practitioners. (“Oh; I’m not interested in Susie for this internal opening. I interviewed her when she applied 3 years ago and she wasn’t a fit.”)
Shorthand is a dying skill. Mental shorthand needs to follow.