Most of our assumptions have outlived their uselessness. — Marshall McLuhan
In Part 1, I explained that from an early age, I was warned by my parents, both experienced in the business world and beyond, that one of the worst things I could do was make assumptions about who people were or their place in society.
As I said before, both parents made it clear that the way to avoid making assumptions about others is to treat everyone with impartiality and respect.
Using anecdotes, both parents often drove home the point that making assumptions could lead to all sorts of bad things — from hurt feeling to unintended consequences.
Here’s one of my Dad’s stories (with a name change, of course):
Back in the day, department stores were really like a “mall” is today in terms of the diversity of merchandise sold, but housed in one multi-story building, complete with the ubiquitous “tea room.”
Specialty departments were really like the separate stores that you see in malls today, but all under the same corporate ownership. You could find just about anything you could imagine under one roof — sporting goods, furniture, house wares, luggage, sewing notions, toys — you name it, there was a department for it, each with their own merchandise buyer.
Departmental buyers met regularly with salesmen representing various manufacturers and much showmanship and flourish went into the presentation of new sample items, pictures, catalogs, and brochures. No PowerPoint here, just hands-on theatrics, and ‘good ol’ boy’ camaraderie. In fact, most of the manufacturer’s “reps” were well liked and their visits constituted an occasion.
But not always.
In one particular department store, there was one salesman who really got on everybody’s nerves, every time he visited, even if they didn’t deal with him directly. This guy was always way too loud, obnoxiously know-it-all, and chronically sloppy with his paperwork. Because his products sold well, he was begrudgingly tolerated.
And so, one exceedingly busy afternoon, after many coffees, this hotshot was, so he thought, charming the socks off the furniture buyer when he was suddenly seized with an urgent nature call.
He excused himself to attend to his situation only to find that it wasn’t just the store that was busy, but all the public restrooms were busy as well. Hurriedly he returned to the buyer, explained his dilemma, and the buyer kindly handed him the key to the private, “executive” washroom.
Newly refreshed, the salesman was washing his hands when a very thoughtful older gentleman, of modest dress and comportment, handed him a fresh towel with which to dry his hands. By way of reward, the salesman hastily gave the old gentleman a quarter for his services, and the older man thanked the salesman appreciatively.
Later, as the salesman was getting on the elevator to leave, he remarked to the furniture buyer, “That’s a nice old fella who services the executive restroom.” Other buyers were also within earshot, and all the men quickly exchanged amused glances with one another, barely able to keep from laughing right out loud.
But, sometimes an inflated ego needs a good pin-pricking, and not able to resist, the buyers felt it incumbent upon themselves to explain to the salesman that the “nice ol’ fella” was none other than Mr. Edwin T. Wilson, the multimillionaire owner/president of the store.
It goes without saying that had the salesman avoided making assumptions in the first place, he would have avoided public embarrassment later. It also goes without saying, that such an incident could end in worse consequences — the loss of a job among them.
Please share your thoughts on the dangers of making assumptions in the Comments section below.
In the meantime,