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“Our duty is to believe that for which we have sufficient evidence, and to suspend our judgment when we have not.” ~John Lubbock

I spoke to a group Wednesday night as part of a panel on body language and meta-messaging; aligning internal beliefs with external behaviour.

In the Q & A part at the end, a young woman asked me a question. It was her response to a new hire at her company, who while on an off-site company retreat had refused an invitation she made him. She was hurt, pissed off about it and it bothered her enough to ask the question in public.

Her question, framed with the universal, “So, what do you do when (fill in the blank example)?” didn’t begin to give me enough info to diagnose the real issue. Besides, you never start with “the what” to do about cleaning up an interaction, you start with “the why” it happened.

She thought the young man ‘aloof.’

Why aloof, I asked.

“I asked him to join us that evening—we were going out—and he said he had a book club meeting, he had to read!”

“What was the actual exchange?” I asked. “If you can remember your specific words, that’ll help me.”

“Well,” she replied, “I said, ‘Why don’t you join us—we’re going out after the meeting’ and then he said…”

I stopped her, needing no more info.

Her original invitation framed the request: “Why don’t you…?” is NOT the way to make an invitation, or a suggestion, the implication being that if you don’t follow the suggestion, you’re a fool. It’s a not so subtle form of moral judgment, and the listener reacts to it.

We talked it through for maybe two minutes. She was applying her perspective to his choices—and they didn’t match: He wasn’t interacting with his new work family as she would have, had she been the new hire. He didn’t accept her invitation as she would have. There were lots of ways she judged him, unkindly, and it came through in her unconscious choice of how she phrased her invitation.

I suggested different perspectives: Maybe he was naturally shy, tired, or scared. Or an introvert, and maybe his book club was really important to him? Had she considered any of these possibilities?

She got it.

“So maybe if I had said, ‘Hey, we’re going out afterward, we’d love to have you come and get to know you better,” he might have said ‘yes?’”

“Maybe. You can try that next time.”

“Thanks. I think I will.”

Judgments: We all have them. But do we notice? That’s the place to start when cleaning up misunderstandings.

Back when Quincy Jones put together the “We Are the World” song with dozens of big name singers, he posted a sign on the studio door: “Check your egos at the door.”

Communication gets a lot easier—and a whole lot more effective—when we check our judgments, too.


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