You Must Be…

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is an adage many in the United States grew up hearing from parents, teachers, and other community members.

Simply put, it means that one should not assume to know something about a person, place, or thing just by appearances. As business professionals, as parents, as community members, how would you give feedback to the person making assumptions in each of the stories below?

Consider a situation involving a car accident. A young college student and her boyfriend were driving home from the beach when they were struck from behind by another vehicle while waiting at a red light. According to state law, both vehicles pulled into a nearby parking lot and waited for law enforcement to arrive.

The officer on the scene approached the young couple and the older woman. Turning to the young couple, the officer asked, “How fast were you going when you hit this lady?” The couple was forced to explain twice that they had NOT been drinking, and were, in fact, struck from behind by the other woman. The woman drove a high priced car and was dressed to attend a wedding, and the young couple were wearing bathing suits.

Assumption: Because the couple is young, drive an older car, and are in bathing suits, they must be the cause of the accident, not the well-dressed older woman in the Cadillac?

Another situation involves the real estate industry. A couple had purchased a new home, but had to wait to move in until the Parade of Homes (a home tour show that lets prospective buyers preview houses built by a variety of builders) was over, and people were done viewing their new home. Two weeks prior to moving into the home, as the couple was packing, and suddenly realized that they had no idea what window treatments in their new home would be like. They drove to their soon-to-be new home without bothering to change clothes. (They were wearing their old jeans and T-shirts.)

Upon entry to their new home, the couple greeted the realtor who was showing the home to prospective buyers. When the realtor finished speaking with another couple, she turned to the soon-to-be owners and said, “Hi there. We have great floor plans here, and we can definitely show you smaller, more affordable options to better suit your budget!” The couple took delight in letting the realtor know that indeed, they were not interested in smaller houses as they were the new owners of this particular house.

Assumption: Because of the clothes the couple was wearing, they must not be able to afford such a house?

Let’s bring assumptions to the job search. What do you say to the recruiter who, upon hearing you speak, asks, “Where are you from?” You may say, “Oh, I live in Minnesota, but I am originally from Wisconsin.” The recruiter says, “No, really? With a name like yours and a voice that sounds like yours, I figured…you must be from somewhere else.” Does the person tell the recruiter that he/she was named after a parent’s dear friend, and that the voice sounds that way due to a hearing loss, which often affects the voice?

Assumption: A person with a name that is most commonly associated with Spanish or French speaking cultures and also has a voice that doesn’t sound “midwestern”, must be “from somewhere else”?

Please send your comments and feedback regarding each of the above scenarios. What are your thoughts about how we can solicit professionals to practice the art of inquiry before assumption? How do we monitor ourselves? What do you do when you hear yourself or another thinking or saying, “You must be…” about someone else?