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You Never Know Who You’re Dealing With

I accepted a new position last week and it will involve once again being a supervisor.
I’ve been preparing for the role by asking seasoned managers for their input on how to hit the ground running, and for 360 degree type feedback about their perceptions of me at work.
You can never ask enough. Ask, and ask, and ask.
And I was walking past the desk of an administrative assistant I am friendly with and she had a few minutes. So I asked if I could “interview her.”
After about thirty seconds I realized that I was talking to someone with extensive managerial experience, in the military and in the private sector. 
For months and months she had seemed to belong to a certain category, but after all this time it was clear: I didn’t know who I was dealing with.
It’s funny, I think people are naturally this way, but branding has made us even worse. We’ve become so accustomed to making quick and simple decisions. We need to; all of us suffer from information overload. So it’s much easier to think: look at the shoes, she must be rich; look at his coat, he must be poor. And then subtly adjust our reactions accordingly.
Remember that movie Trading Places with Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd? Eddie was a con artist and Dan was a spoiled an incompetent rich kid, until each of them assumed the position of the other.
Or Freaky Friday – the original with Jodie Foster and the remake with Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis. Mom and daughter switch bodies, but nobody else knows.
Remember Big, with Tom Hanks? That piano scene in FAO Schwartz?
You never, never, never, never know who you’re dealing with.
It is so frequently said at work that the person who’s your colleague today may tomorrow be your boss. You knew that.
But how often do you really think about this principle in everyday life?
There are a lot of stories that bear telling. Here are just a few more.
In the hall I told a normally quiet colleague about the new position.
“I know,” he said. “I knew it already.”
“How did you know that? I didn’t even tell you,” I said.
“Because you were disinterested last week. It was in the air.”
Do you realize how closely you are being observed? Do you know who is observing you? Do you respect the depth of their perception?
Here’s another one – a memory of the nursing home where we used to visit my husband’s mom, before she passed (may she rest in peace).
The residents had private rooms. Each one had a shadowbox on the outside with personal photos, a momento, whatever they chose to put there.
It was easy to dismiss those shadowboxes because they were smallish and all of them looked the same. Who would stop and inspect someone else’s unfamiliar pictures?
But one woman had her entire door plastered with newspaper clippings. These were impossible to ignore. They lauded her career as a decorated veteran of the U.S. military, the first to do this and the most accomplished at that.
One time I peeked my head inside, just a little, to see who this woman was. As expected she was small and skinny and I couldn’t see her face but her body was inanimate.
In the lunchroom I wouldn’t have picked this woman out of the crowd. Nor any of the residents especially. But I knew Mom, and why she was so special to me. 
I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. 
Don’t assume anything about anyone.
Copyright 2015 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of the consultancy BrandSuccess and co-founder of the brand thought leadership portal All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole. You can contact Dr. Blumenthal on LinkedIn or here.
Photo credit: John Iwanski/Flickr (Creative Commons)

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