We all have hacks or shortcuts we use to make our lives easier, both professionally and personally. Quickly looking for a quality olive oil to include in a dinner you’re planning on cooking to impress your mother-in-law? You grab the expensive stuff. Looking for a hard-working employee to take over the last minute project that needs to get done quickly and get done well? You turn to the worker who devotes an extra two hours a day at the office.
Sometimes, your first reaction or initial impression isn’t always the right one. While our instincts do come in handy when interacting with new people or problem-solving at work, they also have the potential to set us up for making the wrong assumptions. It helps to take a little time before reacting or responding to a problem, person, or situation to re-center yourself, look at a problem with fresh eyes or approach a person with impartial opinions.
False Assumptions We Make and How to Resist Making Them
1. Resist the urge to immediately form an opinion about somebody. People typically form an impression of a person seconds after meeting them. But just because we are hardwired to form impressions so quickly doesn’t mean we have to be slaves to our instincts. When meeting someone new, be aware of this tendency. If you immediately have misgivings about somebody, try to articulate why you feel that way. Rather than immediately going with your gut instinct, measure that person’s actual performance to what your misgivings are. If somebody makes a mistake soon after you start working with them, don’t assume they are incompetent or careless. Let them know they need to improve and see if they follow through first. If you have an immediately favorable impression of someone, try to remain objective in terms of measuring his or her performance. Don’t remain blind to weakness in their performance just because you liked them initially.
2. Don’t assume extroverts make the best leaders. There is a tendency to believe that people who are outgoing and speak the most will make the best leaders. To the contrary, introverts often make excellent leaders because they have a tendency to listen and think things through before taking action. Rather than merely looking at whether someone gathers attention when in a busy room or during a meeting, look at the decisions people make and watch for the people others approach for help when they have a problem.
3. Employees that work the longest hours aren’t necessarily the best workers. Many people assume that a person who stays the latest in the office is the hardest worker. However, many employees now do work from home and remain highly productive. Successful remote employees are often smart and efficient and can get work done quickly while remaining away from the office. Employees who take time away from the office for sick days, vacation days, or family obligations should not be penalized vis-à-vis employees who don’t. Take objective measures of productivity and work product. While an employee’s willingness to devote extra time when there is an urgent deadline is a positive, the general sense that they are always in the office is not always to be commended if they are inefficient or their work product is mediocre.
4. Just because an important problem needs to be solved doesn’t always mean that the highest-ranking person in the office is the one who should be handling it. When there is a major problem and anxiety runs high, we tend to make snap judgments about who should be called in to help. One of the snap judgments we make is to call the highest-ranking person that we know—the head of IT, the CEO of the vendor, the lead partner of the trial team. The highest-ranking person, however, may know the least about the particular problem you’re dealing with or may lack the specialized skills for dealing with it. The head of your marketing department may be a whiz at overall strategy, but may also know nothing about why nobody seems to have received invitations to that huge event you were planning. In an emergency, try to keep calm and think about who has the knowledge and the skills to help and sort out the specific issue you’re trying to solve.
5. Price isn’t always a proxy for quality. Economists have observed that consumers often rely on price as a proxy for quality.No significant purchase should be made on the basis of this assumption.If you find yourself relying on this assumption, take it as a cue to collect additional information on the product or service that you are buying.Conduct your own research if possible. If the purchase you are making is for a highly technical (e.g., enterprise CRM software) or a very specialized service (e.g., legal representation), you may not know what criteria to use to evaluate your options.In these instances, it’s probably best to speak to somebody who has experience purchasing these services or products to identify the criteria they used and whether they found those criteria predictive of quality.
While our gut instincts may pay off when walking alone down a dark alley in the middle of the night, these initial assumptions and reactions aren’t always the wisest to listen to when handling business matters. In running your business, decisions often have to be made quickly, but if you’re using pure instinct to make a decision rather than analyzing the facts at your disposal, you’re probably being too hasty.