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“Are we good?” I ask.
There hadn’t been any tension. No drama. No strife. But there had been a bit of quiet. And how could you know if it was caused by the pandemic or something else? Well, you couldn’t. Unless you ask. So I did.
“Yes, of course,” was the reply. A 15-minute phone conversation followed, catching up on a few things. Each of us reinforced to the other that we’d just not been in touch like either of us desired because the pandemic had completely thrown us off our rhythm. One last time, before we hung up, I said, “OK, we’re good, right?” Confirmation came immediately. “Of course, we’re better than good.”
I hung up the phone and wrote the phrase, “OK, we’re good, right?” Truth is I had already been thinking quite a lot about how people – all of us – are prone to surmising.
supposing that something is true without having evidence to confirm it
When I was pretty young I became keenly aware of people’s obsessions with other people. Maybe something prompted it, but I don’t remember anything specific. Just a bunch of things – various situations where I’d observe people who’d make assertions about people without having any facts or evidence. It was likely the language that got my attention because I’ve always had this weird fascination with words. Especially the words people use. “I’ll bet he…(fill in the blank on what they were thinking).” Lots of people would say that about somebody.
During my early teen years, I was particularly irked with what we now call “fronting.” People pretending. I naturally found pretentious people unpleasant. Mostly, I was intrigued by why people would so desperately care what other people thought about them that they’d be fake.
Couple these two colliding youthful observations about people and I grew increasingly perplexed by why people weren’t just forthright with each other – and why people wouldn’t behave more honestly with each other. Besides, I’d grown up hating strife and tension. Unlike what I saw in many adults – avoiding facing it or confronting it – I was naturally wired to find out the problem because it seemed to me you couldn’t fix something without first knowing what was wrong. Making peace seemed to demand to get to the crux of the matter so you could find some common ground so everybody could move on.
I’ve learned through the years that sometimes people may think I’m insecure about whatever relationship we’ve got. “Are we good?” likely smacks of “he’s feeling insecure about our relationship” to some. I don’t always word it that way, but in spite of knowing how it may sound to some, I’ve also learned that the same people who may feel I’m taking aim at my own insecurity about our relationship feel that way no matter how I make the inquiry. I know because I’ve asked. 😀
Then, there are those of us who ask a lot of questions because of our desire to know. Some of us are more naturally curious than others. It’s why for decades I’ve often told people, “I know what I know, but I don’t know what you know.” The only conversations that I hate – after the fact – are those where I feel like I’ve talked too much. It happens more frequently than I’d like and I’m constantly reminding myself to be quieter.
I’m genuinely interested. Well, let’s be completely honest. I’m genuinely interested when I’m talking to somebody I really want to talk with. There’s only a small percentage of people in whom I’m not that interested. Self-absorbed, full of themselves types. Know-it-all, smartest-person-in-the-room types. I find myself lacking even a small amount of curiosity about such types, but I’m fairly interested in most people. I’m the guy who will not likely give up on the conversation until after 2 or 3 uncomfortable questions – made only uncomfortable by the person’s not being forthright to answer. NOT, by my asking some uncomfortable questions. Before I got out of high school I had learned some people are just uncomfortable talking about themselves. So I’d press on in hopes they’d grow more comfortable. Most do. Some don’t.
One point of today’s show is that surmising we do.
The stories we tell ourselves about others. Last time we talked a bit about self-delusion and our ability to lie to ourselves. But today it’s about our ability to tell ourselves lies about others. Well, to be fair, things that might be lies. We just don’t know. And mostly, we don’t take the time or trouble to find out.
Evidence-based leadership wasn’t known by that term when it first dawned on me that in business I needed to follow evidence coupled with my intuition. I’m intuitive. Very much so. Subtle cues don’t go unnoticed. I wasn’t yet 30. I was running a retail company and had a direct report who I had a good intuition about. Months into hiring him something happened. I caught him at work with some marijuana. It was the early 1980s. I wasn’t naive to marijuana, but this man was a number of years older than me and I remember being so disappointed not just in him, but in myself. For failing to know I had hired a guy with such a lack of character to be that irresponsible at work. And he was part of my leadership team, making it all the more dreadful. At that moment, I remember looking for books and advice from mentors on how I could incorporate evidence more in my own leadership. It was my first real “gotcha” moment where my intuition had let me down. So I felt.
The Internet wasn’t around yet so I remember looking for books, magazine articles, or anything else I could on how to improve how I was seeing things. And people.
People hadn’t been a real problem because of my habit of asking lots of questions and doing my best to figure people out. But, as I had now learned, people can fool you.
I had thought better of him. Not worse.
Things Aren’t Always What We Think
I used to say, “Things aren’t always as they appear” until I realized that appearances vary. Some things are exactly as they appear or seem. Some aren’t. But we all form opinions and judgments – the things we decide to think.
The evidence can range from non-existent to flimsy to rock-solid.
Maybe this year we can collectively do better at avoiding surmising things about each other. Maybe we can extend more grace, compassion and understanding to one another.
Let’s at least try.