Jumping to Conclusions

Can you think of a time when you thought you were being taken advantage of… and later realized that you were wrong?

A friend related a recent experience to me. He described a confrontation with a middle-aged man who scours the streets in his neighbourhood looking through garbage for beverage containers that he returns for cash.

My friend said, “This guy is pushing around a grocery cart full of bottles. It is freezing outside and he looks like he needs a bath, new clothes and some warm food. Next I see him heading into my backyard.”

My friend then walked outside and said, “Look I don’t mind if you take anything at the curb but please do not go in the backyard because my son is saving bottles for his minor hockey team.” The guy said, “No problem, I’m having a good week. I already got $280… and they really appreciated it at the shelter.” Feeling slightly embarrassed, my friend sheepishly replied, “You mean you donate the money to the local homeless shelter?” The guy said, “Yeah, I have all I need.”

A week later, my friend was up a ladder installing Christmas ornaments on his house. He heard a noise and sure enough, the shabbily dressed man was rushing down the street with his grocery cart. The moment the man starts to make his way into the backyard, my friend realizes that the man must not see him. My friend got a bit hot under the collar and yelled down, “Hey, I told you… my son is saving bottles out back.” The man looked up and very calmly said, “Oh, hi. Yeah, I had some extra bottles this week and just thought your son could use them for his hockey team.”

Two times in one week and with the same guy! Had I been in my friend’s shoes, I would have done the same myself. The natural tendency in a situation like this is to aggressively take control. The problem is that if you incorrectly jump to conclusions too frequently, people will not trust you.

You may be thinking, “But I am an electrical inspector. How does this apply to me and my work?”

Well, without trust, your work is more difficult and you are much less effective. So how can you avoid falling into this trap?

While there are times when you need to swiftly take control, there is a better way to handle this… and it applies whether you are doing an electrical inspection, protecting your property or dealing with your spouse.

The next time you find yourself in a “situation” where you think you are being taken advantage of, so long as life or property is not at risk, try this. Instead of assuming the worst, give the person the benefit of the doubt, assume they are genuinely trying to help you (yes… that they are actually trying to help you) and then, ask them a question.

For example, my friend realized that he should have first asked, “How are you today?” and then asked, “Is there anything I can help you with out back?” Notice that in hindsight, my friend felt that he should have asked how the man was doing before even asking about why he was going into the backyard.

Questions give you insight that is very difficult to intuitively pick up. And even if you are particularly attuned to a situation, you can still easily misread what is actually happening. With a clearer picture, you will respond more appropriately and in the process, develop trust. The bottom line is that questions will help you more effectively achieve your goals.

No amount of regulatory authority can give you the power and control that you will get through trust and appreciation.

Remember, trust is a two-way street and it is developed through understanding. So ask questions, avoid jumping to conclusions, build trust and be a better electrical inspector.

Steve Foran
Steve Foran is an electrical engineer with an MBA that has been transformed into a Gratitude Engineer. Steve specializes in helping organizations overcome the attitudes of entitlement and complacency that somehow seem to creep into workplaces. Through his research, speaking, writing and consulting he helps organizations build healthier workplace cultures. You can find out more about Steve and his work at www.giveraising.com or you may contact him through LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/steveforancustomerservice or Twitter @ForanSteve